The History Crisis Is a National Security Problem

Bret Devereaux:

The United States is rapidly shedding historians—and the national security implications are dire. Even as it grapples with challenges and conflictsrooted in complicated regional histories, the United States continues a decade-and-a-half-long path of defunding history departments and deprioritizing history education. This threatens to produce a generation of policymakers and advisors whose view of the world is increasingly, and dangerously, shallow.

History is in an unprecedented crisis. Battered by budget cuts and a refusal to replace retiring historians, university history departments are now rapidly shrinking; a 2022 study of Midwestern history departments found that the number of permanent departmental faculty had declined by nearly a third since 2010. That decline continues to accelerate as university hiring of historians remains stuck at levels well below what is necessary to replace retirements.

As a consequence, trained historians struggle to find jobs in the field: The rate at which people with history PhDs find tenure-track employment within four years of graduation has declined dramatically, from 54 percent for the 2013 PhD cohort to just 27 percent for the 2017 cohort. In 2022, only a miserable 10 percent of the 2019 and 2020 cohorts were employed as full-time faculty members. Departments have responded with drastic cuts to the number of historians they train; since 2010, the number of PhDs earned in history—which had tracked with jobs in the field since the 1970s—has dropped by 31.9 percent.