Graduate Fostering Interdisciplinary Work and Expanding History’s Reach: Dual Degree Programs and Professional Schools as Opportunities

AHA Session 44
Friday, January 2, 2015: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Lenox Ballroom (Sheraton New York, Second Floor)
Merlin Chowkwanyun, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Merlin Chowkwanyun, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Martha S. Jones, University of Michigan
David Rosner, Columbia University
Karen Tani, University of California, Berkeley
Julian Zelizer, Princeton University

Session Abstract

This panel brings together diverse and interdisciplinary scholars to address an often neglected topic: the value of a dual degree in meeting the history profession’s current challenges.  Our goal here is to continue the conversation that followed James Grossman and Anthony Grafton's "No More Plan B?"  essay.  The panel grows out of a Chronicle of Higher Education essay, "Training Historians and the Dual Degree" <> and the direct suggestion of James Grossman.

Quietly and without fanfare, many historians have earned a PhD in history alongside a second degree, often a masters from a professional school. They do so for various reasons, including to enrich their scholarship; connect with wider audiences, improve their employment prospects; and offer other fields and disciplines the benefits of an historical perspective. 

Dual degree programs can benefit of the profession at large? They can demonstrate the importance and usefulness of history to those outside the disciplinary silo, while opening up badly needed employment opportunities for history graduate students and providing them with additional methodological skills.  But they also can increase students’ time to degree and may impose financial and bureaucratic hurdles. They may also raise concerns about preserving disciplinary “purity.” 

Through a lively roundtable discussion, this panel will explore the promise and peril of dual degree programs and offer concrete ideas about how to move forward. All panelists have experience doing history in both traditional history departments but also outside of them.  Julian Zelizer is a political historian appointed at both a public policy school and history department.  Martha Jones is a legal historian teaching at a law school, Afro-American Studies, and history departments.  She co-directs a program on race, law, and history that brings together scohlars from multiple schools. David Rosner is a medical and public health historian at a public health school and history department.  He founded and directs a dual-degree program where students receive a Master's in Public Health. Merlin Chowkwanyun and Karen Tani offer the perspective of two recent joint degree students. Chowkwanyun is a public health historians at a medical and public health school.  Tani is the first graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s joint degree (JD/PhD) in American legal history and currently teaches at a law school. 

Although all five received training in traditional history departments, all have extensive experience working outside of them, particularly in professional schools.  They have also addressed multi-disciplinary audiences; written for non-history journals; attracted funding from foundations and grantmaking agencies typically closed to historians; and borrowed theories and methods from outside fields.

In recent years, the AHA has pushed historians to consider ways we might broaden the intellectual and occupational horizons of the history PhD, but too many proposals endorse a scattershot approach to next steps. 

Graduate students and colleagues in administrative positions should find the panel useful.  And even those without an express interest in dual degrees should find the panel interesting.  Our larger goal is to identify the financial incentives and administrative reforms necessary for fostering interdisciplinary research and malleability of the PhD.

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