Do I Want to Be a Historian or a Supreme Court Justice?

Elena Kagan’s undergraduate history thesis (Princeton ’81) is making the rounds, sans footnotes.  Two history professors say that it “displays remarkable intellectual maturity” and “an uncommon ability to absorb and synthesize a large amount of information on what was, for an undergraduate in 1981, a fairly arcane topic,” which sounds a little as though they’re writing the umpteenth letter of recommendation of the term.  But after singing her praises as a budding historian for one more paragraph, they conclude (sadly):

These talents leave little doubt that Kagan would have become a superb historian if she had wanted to be one. Of course, even back in the 1980s, there was a tough academic job market in the humanities, and given the way things have worked out for her with her career choices, she probably made the right call.

Now You Know

For those of you finishing their history PhD and eyeing the job market, our very own Dana M. Polanichka (’02), fresh from a UCLA PhD (2009) and newly hired by Wheaton College, offers hands-on advice in Getting an Academic Job in History (Washington D.C.: American Historical Association, 2009), which you can order here. From how to read job ads to writing thank-you notes, from how to put together a teaching portfolio to what to do with academic search wikis (“Probably the best bet is to set wiki breaks and only check the wiki pages then. Try also to stick to the posting pages and avoid discussion pages that tend toward the obsessive and desperate.”, p. 39), Polanichka explains it all. And when on the morning of that big interview, standing in front of the mirror, you wonder if you want to wear that nose ring, the answer is: “No” (p. 46).