Our faithful correspondent Wolfe’s Tone has checked in with his report on day 2 of the AHA. Read his day 1 report here. -JF
Changing the World through Community Colleges
One informative panel this morning centered on getting a job at a community college. An admittedly different animal than four-year liberal arts and research institutions, community colleges are the growth sector of the academic job market.
A friend made a compelling point about community colleges. As less and less Ph.D.-holding historians get tenure-track jobs, more and more will end up in the community colleges–a trickle down economics of expertise. This may end up being a good thing.
If we really do have something to say to the wider world, surely the working class and lower middle-class students who are at the heart of the CC student body need to be convinced that historians can offer accurate understandings and powerful critiques of our society. An argument about the rights of workers in post-war Detroit makes for a great book (exhibit A: Thomas Sugrue). But taking that great, tenure-making monograph and convincing students that it informs their present, requires good teaching. Maybe we can do some good in this crisis. After all, one reason all our departments are getting cut is we can’t seem to prove to anyone (administrators especially) that what we do does change society and really is relevant in the real world. But I’m sermonizing now, so on to tangibles.
A few notes of interest about pursuing a job at a community college:
- You will probably give a 20-30 minute teaching demonstration. Avoid blowing this by acting like you are giving a sophisticated academic paper to other historians. Narrow your teaching down to make one or two powerful teaching points that would resonate with a classroom of working adults and college transfer students. In other words, be accessible. One CC veteran stated, “I’ve seen a bad teaching demonstration destroy someone we thought we were going to hire.”
- On the other hand, don’t assume that your future colleagues are anything less than stellar academics who chose to work in a more hands-on teaching environment. Don’t speak to them like they are graduate students in class with you, wrangling over minutia and trying to prove you are smarter than they are. Respect their knowledge. The fact that they are not “known names” in the field doesn’t mean they are not very sharp and highly trained professionals. One area to watch on this front is the breadth of faculty knowledge. CC instructors often spend decades teaching areas beyond their specialty field, so someone with a Ph.D. in African history may also teach the US survey, and you might be surprised how much they know about your field.
- Not all community colleges are the same. Some have tenure, most don’t. Some still require research for promotion/tenure, others emphasize teaching and service. Some actually support your research or AHA trips. Know their emphasis before you interview. Of course the unifying factor is that they all focus on teaching (generally a 5/5 load, with less students per class but more one-on-one outside the classroom).
- The thing I personally appreciate about community colleges is what they share in common with liberal arts colleges: an emphasis on the student. Community college instructors are very cognizant of the fact that their job exists to serve the student (as opposed to the clichéd but not untrue attitude of many researchers that the students exist to serve the professor’s academic career).
- Most CC pay scales are based in the “step system,” so you want to start out at the highest step you can. Bring documentation of every teaching/professional experience you have so HR can give you the place in the system you’ve earned
- Make sure you emphasize any experience you have working with students of diverse socio-economic backgrounds
- If you want to pursue an administrative track, make sure to get on the nuts and bolts committees (curriculum development, etc) and focus your professional development on leadership training rather than research
The Mark Noll Effect
Panels at the AHA are usually not standing room only affairs. Even the superstar panel I attended on abolition Thursday was at most 60% full. But for the second straight year, I attended a packed panel including Mark A. Noll, the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. The room was in the area assigned to the American Society of Church History and was far too small a venue for this particular panel. Beyond standing room only, it was squatter’s rights, with people literally squatting on the floor behind the panelists as they read. The reason for this is simple–Noll has produced such a prodigious scholarship and is so widely respected by American religious historians that we never miss a chance to hear what he has to say. Today, he and several other fine panelists had something to say about re-envisioning world Christianity.
Noll’s paper argued that there are three broad categories of world Christianity. The first two fit earlier master narratives, a Western Catholic Christendom and a Western and dominantly American volunteerism. The third way is the growing third world Christianity that has too often been assumed to be an export of the volunteerist Christianity of missional societies. Using examples of the post-cultural revolution China, African Christianities, and Korean nationalist Presbyterianism, Noll encouraged the audience not to confuse the similarities with certain strands of the more dominant narratives with what is truly its own, nativist phenomenon. Noll argued that post Maoist Chinese Christianity has been closer to a pre-Constantinian Christianity than a product of western missionaries. Noll suggests that this indigenous Chinese movement will be one of the most compelling stories of the twenty-first century. The push back by African Anglicans against certain American elements of the Anglican communion, a seen in their ordination of practicing homosexuals and blessings of gay unions, was the product of an African church that came of age in the post-colonial period. Noll got a good laugh from the audience when he pointed out that the story of the Korean Declaration of Independence includes a group that defies the western imagination, Korea’s “Presbyterian Pacifist Pastors.” These religious and nationalist leaders, desiring both independence and civil peace, signed the Declaration of Independence and then promptly walked to the police station and turned themselves in to the Japanese authorities. Noll asked the audience to try and imagine John Witherspoon doing the same thing in 1776. Not likely.
Other papers today were well received, but I confess that I have not heard enough substance to comment on them. One ASCH panel was less impressive. I heard a paper on Francis Wayland and anti-slavery that was interesting in the way it traced Wayland’s shifts on abolition, but I felt the presenter used interpretation as a rather blunt object. Mark Draper presented a different paper on the abolitionist and black take on the businessmen’s revival of 1857-8 which offered a needed addition to that story. This panel was highlighted by insightful remarks by John Stauffer from Harvard who asked the audience to imagine the complicated ways people understood nineteenth-century slavery. He noted that most people living in early America saw slavery in the same way modern Americans see pollution–an unfortunate but necessary bi-product of civilization. Only when the powerful idea of abolition, tied to a fight against sin and oppression, was unleashed by Quakers and other agitators, did the fight against slavery in particular become a fight against slavery as a universal sin.
Don’t Eat Alone
The AHA is all about one thing, networking. Actually, that is false. The AHA is all about the job market and its commiserate stress levels, but we’ve already covered that yesterday. Beyond that, networking is the key.
This is not to say amazing research is not being presented. It is. There are some great panels going on here and you should make a note of them. But the heart and soul of what happens is the interactions between historians. These interactions get the creative juices flowing. Very few people are here with a posse, so if you find yourself standing next to a stranger the chances are they are also trying to meet new people in the field. Introduce yourself. Invite people to grab coffee. Invite people to grab lunch. It may lead nowhere, but it at least gives you one more person you know at one more university. All this to say– don’t ever eat by yourself at the AHA. Use meals as an opportunity to network. And if you have no network, use the conference to create one.
Another piece of advice: Don’t brown-nose your way through the AHA. You are not going to get a job because you sweet-talked Professor Wonderful about his/her greatness and your admiration of it. What we get from networking meetings are the organic friendships that evolve from mutual passions, shared experiences, and not a little mutual suffering. These do help your career, as people email you months or years later with something they found in an archives that you could use. Or they might suggest your name to an editor to write for a project. But their main benefit is this–its nice to go through life knowing that there are others who agree with you that accounts of Medieval society are desperately in need of a gendered analysis of class inequalities. Sometimes, the AHA reminds us that we are not alone. We are legion, and we are in very nice hotels.
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