The Independent Historian and the Question of “Academic” Rigor
Neil B. Dukas, National Coalition of Independent Scholars
Beyond the Academy: History Employment and Scholarly Professionalism
Ray F. Kibler III, National Coalition of Independent Scholars
In recent times, the number of historians practicing history off off the tenure track has become an increasingly acknowledged reality. Whether this “independent” status is by choice or by circumstance, this increase partially reflects the much-discussed decline in the availability of tenure-track academic positions in the history profession. Therefore, the National Coalition of Independent Scholars is co-sponsoring a roundtable to address this growing reality from the perspectives of a few of the organization’s members. While this roundtable does not intend to offer solutions, it will provide important perspectives on how individual independent scholars have adapted, and what role NCIS and other learned societies, can play in making independent scholarship an economically and professionally viable option.
Jonathan Moore, a Ph. D. candidate who has had previous experience in the world of business and real estate, approaches the issue from the perspective of an aspiring historian with an abiding passion for the field balanced with an awareness of the realities of the job market. In his talk, he emphasizes preparing for a career in his field while simultaneously preparing to practice history as an independent scholar who supports himself with his previous day job. The advice he concludes with for all prospective and currently practicing historians is to “control the controllables,” and worry less about what is beyond one’s control.
Susan Breitzer, in her presentation, addresses the issue from the perspective of a recent Ph. D. who has worked as an adjunct instructor and writer for hire, as well as a Board member of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars. In it, she shifts the focus to the issue of the “rights and responsibilities” of independent scholars, specifically addressing the interrelated problems of lack of professional structure and professional support. She also examines the idea of “equivalent standards” and shaping decisions to pursue research ideas “because you think you can” to one's advantage.
Neil Dukas, an established independent scholar and the author of three books further develops Breitzer’s focus by speaking to the issue of “independent historian” equaling “amateur historian” in the public perception, and how this perception is sometimes exacerbated by the unconventional subject matter that independent historians frequently write about. While Dukas allows that there are challenges to producing quality scholarship without support, he also emphasizes that the scholar who is not answerable to an institution can more credibly claim an “aura” of unbiased research.
Finally, Ray Kibler, a minister and church historian by training, addresses an area that is sometimes glossed over in the academic versus independent historian dichotomies—that historians who work in nonacademic history-related are just as much “employed” historians as their academic colleagues. Kibler therefore calls upon the AHA and similar learned societies to do a better job “affirming and promoting” these historians within the organization. Kibler also brings out the possibilities for older scholars who have spent most of their adult lives in professional careers fields “harvest the fruits of their life-long learning” as independent scholars.