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The market worth of a Medievalist

Today I was in the unusual and rather exciting position of being told by senior academics that my dissertation topic lends itself nicely to very commercially viable books - several of them. Material history is hot right now. Who knows if anything will come of this in my career, but it's pleasing to think someone thinks my research areas have promise. Of course, commercial feasibility alone does not make an academic career.

Being a Medievalist is not a career naturally designed to bring fame and fortune. Indeed, if you haven't read the article in the current Medieval Academy Newsletter from a woman leaving medieval academia on the subject (and you're a medievalist or heading in that general direction), you should, just for some perspective. She argues, among other things, that academia is training up way too many PhDs in medieval subjects given the demand, and many people take on PhDs for many of the wrong reasons. Read it for perspective, not to discourage you from the field. It's healthy to be able to see both sides.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 14th, 2003 02:43 am (UTC)
hey, that's excellent! start outlining the first book!

The extraneous Ph.D problem isn't confined to medieval studies... in pretty much all humanities fields, and I would imagine other areas as well, the number of Ph.Ds churned out by universities is far greater than the number of academic posts available for them to fill. Sad but true... That's part of the reason I'm not planning on staying in academia.
Mar. 14th, 2003 05:04 pm (UTC)
I imagine it's a fairly common joke that a young medievalist's most fortunate break would be a plane disaster in May at Kalamazoo. :)

Anyway, I thought I'd drop by and say hi, because Rhiannon said I should. :) I was a seminar or so shy of PhD exams when I dropped out of medievalism nearly 6 years ago and took on the even more obscure job of mothering & freelance writing. (Nobody ever cares who wrote the grant proposal, do they?) I remember the first semester of MA work, when they had the professors come and lecture us lowly grads. Every stinkin' one of them--no matter what specialty--went on and on about the tremendous odds against our getting jobs in our fields. In spite of them, most of my classmates who did complete their degrees seem to have done quite well.
Mar. 16th, 2003 08:56 pm (UTC)
Mothering and freelance writing are both very worthy causes, and I'm sure both of them are benefiting from your work towards a medievalist degree in the past.

No one may care who actually wrote the grant proposal but I know that I have no experience in grant writing and the fortunes of my career are very likely to depend on learning that particular skill in the very near future!

Good to meet you!
Mar. 15th, 2003 05:18 am (UTC)
I know exactly where you're coming from. My MA supervisor spent a great deal of time during my degree telling me about the probability (or lack thereof) of my future employment in the field. Of course, her husband was also trained as a medievalist, never found a job, and ended up as a lawyer, so I suspect some personal bitterness from her.

That said, I'm still going on to my PhD. I can't let forthright be more educated than me! ;)

Oh, and I'm also going to Kalamazoo this year. Get to present a paper and everything. *hopes plan doesn't crash due to voodoo curses of aspiring medievalists*
Mar. 16th, 2003 07:19 pm (UTC)
Since forthright recommended me to have a look at your journal, I actually did know you were giving a Kalamazoo paper and even looked it up first thing when the program (finally!) arrived on Friday. You're in the session right after mine.

My advisor has actually been really upbeat about my career prospects - he was handing me suggestions of places to apply as of last fall, when I even now not ready to consider applying anywhere yet. Still, I've heard enough worry about the job market in news sources that I'm taking his optimism with a grain of salt. We'll see how it works out.
Mar. 21st, 2003 02:49 pm (UTC)
Haggis is right; this problem affects a lot of disciplines. My first year at university, the head of our college called everyone together and made a speech about how if everyone with a job in our field died that year, there'd be enough job openings for everyone graduating with a degree in that subject.

I work in the publishing industry. Used to be, you'd show up in NYC with whatever raggle-taggle incomplete academic credentials had gotten stuck to you along the way, pick up entry-level work in the industry, and start learning the trade.

I've been watching the spread of publishing programs at universities across the country. It's nice in a way to have youngsters showing up who already know what copyediting is, but once they're here their options are the same as ever: pick up entry-level work in the industry and start really learning the trade.

In the meantime, more people are graduating from those programs every year, and there just aren't a lot of jobs in trade publishing. There never have been. It's a very small field.

I'm starting to think it's like a pyramid scheme, where you can make money if you get in on it early enough, but if you're further down the chain you'll never get a payoff. There's a small number of slots for academic medievalists. The number of slots can be increased by starting additional medieval studies programs at
Mar. 21st, 2003 03:00 pm (UTC)
Blast! I accidentally hit the "Post Comment" button. Where was I? ... Right:

There's a small number of slots for academic medievalists. The number of slots can be increased by starting additional medieval studies programs at other universities. However, this will eventually add to the problem, since these programs will generate further crops of supernumerary medievalists. There will never be enough job openings to accommodate them.

You can do a global search-and-replace, swapping "drama" or "mass communications" or "art history" for "medieval", without any loss of accuracy. That's why you get those warnings from professors and advisors.

-T. Nielsen Hayden
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )