Thinking about Failure and Rejection in the Historical Profession: Definitions, Trajectories, and Choices

AHA Session 86
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Gramercy West (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Ricardo A. Herrera, School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College
Elesha Coffman, Baylor University
Joshua Isbell, independent scholar
Rachel L. Martin, writer
Laura Morreale, Independent Scholar
Ricardo A. Herrera, School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College

Session Abstract

What does it mean to succeed? To fail? How do failure and rejection figure into the professional and personal lives of historians? How might historians use their particular disciplinary approach and substantive expertise to understand how our discourse about success, acceptance, failure and rejection shape our experiences? How does the language of #altac or #postac, and the judgement of peers and colleagues, shape how we understand what it means to be a historian? What does it mean when traditional markers of “success” are unsatisfying or unfulfilling? What might it meant to choose to walk away?

The roundtable takes as a central idea that failure and rejection are central ideas built into the experiences the historical profession at every level, from the decision to pursue graduate education, to applications to graduate programs, grant and fellowship applications, publication, dissertation revisions and defenses, the job market, tenure decisions, and throughout one’s career. For every “yes” you hear, there are often many more no’s. And sometimes, “yes” never comes. Discussions about so-called alt-ac career paths and career diversity are also informed by discourses of success and failure. Recently, there has been pushback against some of the “alt” language, arguing that “alt” suggests careers outside of traditional academia are less-than, rather than viable first choice options.

This roundtable brings together four historians who have different experiences and career trajectories to engage in a frank discussion about how they have experienced failure and rejection in the profession, how conceptions of failure and rejection by colleagues, mentors, and others have shaped their experiences, and how they have defined success for themselves.

The session will be presented in a roundtable style to encourage conversation among the panelists and the audience. Each panelist will present for 10-12 minutes; these presentations will be followed by a ~30 minute moderated discussion amongst them, and close with about 30 minutes of discussion that includes the audience.

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