The topic of the future of the PhD in the Humanities might seem to have been suggested by the ongoing crisis in the job market. Are we producing too many PhDs when many of them can’t get suitable jobs? Are we training them properly, given the kind of teaching many of them go into. Can a humanities PhD prepare them for employment in nonacademic fields. Should we even worry over whether our PhDs are employable?
There has always been a crisis in the humanities job market—it was in crisis when I started looking for jobs 33 years ago. There has always been the promised surge of open positions when the current generations of faculty retire. But economic crisis, downsizing of programs, changes in universities, and changes in the humanities itself have proved such hopes empty.
The job crisis raises serious ethical and professional issues that we cannot ignore or pretend not to see.
However, the PhD’s future in the humanities is not merely an issue of too many graduates and too few jobs. It’s a matter of whether graduate programs in the 21st century should be governed by disciplinary models that date back into the 19th century. It’s about the quality and substance of the graduate education we provide. Do we overvalue the dissertation? Do our students take too long to finish, or not enough time? Is humanities graduate study too narrow and focused? Is a new PhD who has never studied outside a single discipline truly educated? Our world is one of virtualities, of inter- and multidisciplinary research and teaching, of the traditional monograph’s rapid decline, of radically evolving forms of scholarly publishing, of new technologies in instruction and research. Can we afford not to consider the fundamental shape of doctoral study in the humanities?