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Graduate and Undergraduate Training for the Ancient History Job Market

Jennifer Roberts

In this paper, I will discuss the reality of the job market and training that both graduate and undergraduate students need in order to be hirable in History and Classics departments. To be viable in today’s job market, those who specialize in the study of Greece and Rome must be in a position to claim the ability to be all things to all people.  A select few will obtain jobs at elite institutions where it is possible for them to fill out their teaching load with courses largely in their own field of specialty, but statistically most jobs will involve a great deal of teaching in other areas. 

Some ancient historians receive their degrees via Classics departments.  Many such departments offer special tracks in ancient history, and their students are well situated to apply for positions in both Classics departments and History departments.  Since History departments may be concerned about their teaching range, it is important for them to work up specialties such as social history, gender, military history, and if at all possible, non-western history.  Minimally it is desirable for students to learn something about the Ancient Near East, which they often do in the context of teaching survey courses as adjuncts.

Those who get jobs in History departments will usually need to teach courses in non-Classical history.  Normally, ancient historians trained in History departments have been prepared for this by requirements that they take both courses and oral examinations in fields other than classical antiquity.  What such students do not always develop is the ability to sell themselves also as teachers of the ancient languages.  Teachers of undergraduate students, who aspire to do graduate work in ancient history, need to drive home to them the need to begin the study of the classical languages as early as possible.  As the director of a graduate program in ancient history, I have often received inquiries from prospective applicants who express disbelief when I explain that an advanced knowledge of at least one of the ancient languages is required for admission, preferably both.  There is no question that students at undergraduate institutions that do not offer Greek or Latin will need to work “extra hard” to become ancient historians—and “extra, extra hard” to be able to bill themselves as suitable to teach in a Classics department as well.  Graduate History departments must encourage their students to cultivate an appreciation of ancient literature beyond historical authors.  When I was in graduate school getting my degree in a History department and planning to specialize in Roman intellectual history, my advisor noticed that I had filled out my program to include a classics course in Homer.  He asked me if I seriously imagined I would ever find myself teaching Homer in Greek, and I replied that I certainly hoped so.  And indeed my first job was as an ancient historian in a department of Classics at a liberal arts college, where I had the pleasure of teaching Homer on several occasions.

Many, if not most, graduate students of ancient history now have the opportunity to teach courses of their own as adjuncts rather than simply serving as teaching assistants.  Although students are often disappointed to learn that these will be general education courses such as mythology or western/world civilization, prospective employers will be glad to see this kind of experience on an applicant’s c.v.  It is often in the context of “stretching” themselves to teach courses for which they do not feel entirely prepared that students develop unexpected interests and skills that will enable them to present themselves as generalists—but with several welcome specialties.  Altogether, ancient history students in both departments of History and departments of Classics need to develop a wide scope that will give them the best chance of getting a job and of doing well in it.

Session/Panel Title

History in Classics / Classics in History

Session/Paper Number

71.4

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