Still Plan B

Anthony T. Grafton and Jim Grossman published No More Plan B which ostensibly called upon historians to open their perspectives about graduate education in October 2011. In July 2013, the AHA Council approved a statement discouraging participation in Open Access Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs). I’ve cherry picked some quotes and mashed them up in conversation with each other to demonstrate the deeply conflicting stances of an organization that proclaims non-tenure track scholarly activities to no longer be a second tier while also recommending a policy in regards to graduate education supported only by their assumptions of the impact on tenure-track faculty (with no other career path mentioned in their reasoning). To be fair, they were written by two different groups (Grafton no longer holds an office, though Grossman is still the Executive Director) but one would hope the AHA does not change its stance on core issues every two years. I’m inclined to interpret the whole situation as Grafton and Grossman’s “very modest proposal” was so modest that no one in the AHA took it seriously, though I tend to be pessimistic.

So this is an important issue because

the book is the measure of scholarly competence used by tenure committees


the requirement that dissertations be published online poses a tangible threat to the interests and careers of junior scholars in particular.

But this isn’t the whole picture,

This narrow perspective does our students a disservice. Why not tell our students, from the beginning, that a PhD in history opens a broad range of doors?

and yet still two years later

this openness to new ways of thinking and working, somehow disappear when we consider our students’ careers.

We teach our students to question received ideas and to criticize inherited terminologies and obsolete assumptions. It’s past time that we began applying these lessons ourselves.

but not applying them too much to ourselves because

History has been and remains a book-based discipline

which is why

We should not be surprised when students internalize our attitudes (implicit or explicit) and assume that the “best” students will be professors and that for everyone else… well, “there’s always public history.”

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