Is it Worthwhile Beginning a History PhD in Australia?

In the immortal words of Reverend Lovejoy, “short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but…”

            Recent political developments have attracted a great deal of discussion amongst my postgrad/teaching associate colleagues and myself. At the top of the list has been the proposed intervention of politicians into the funding for research projects.

            We have been especially concerned about the statements made regarding ‘ridiculous’ projects that Liberal politicians have targeted for attack; projects that us humanities scholars actually feel are very important and worthwhile. It seems that the new government will take a deep interest in ensuring that research funding is not ‘wasted’. Who determines what ‘waste’ means (politicians) is the key issue.

            This led me to ponder the question as to whether in this funding environment it is worthwhile starting a doctoral project in the humanities. From one perspective, it could be suggested that this is a terrible time to begin a project, with the uncertainty of financial support making an already stressful project even worse.

            But after thinking about it for a little while, I believe that now is the most important time to conduct the kind of research done by historians and other humanities scholars.

            The kind of work done in the humanities leads us scholars to question, investigate and critically evaluate not only our specific topics but also the world around us. It seems that it is just this kind of approach that conservative elements in our society find most alarming. Academia is therefore a battleground upon which the ‘culture wars’ are going to be fought over the next few years.

            As such, it is more important than ever that the work of historians and other humanities scholars be continued and strengthened by new research projects. Whether the work being done looks at gender roles in the Middle East, the work of German intellectuals from the 18th and 19th centuries or the influence of the United States on Australian politics in the 1950s and 60s, it must continue.

            By rejecting the proposition that politicians can intervene in research funding (a concept I find absolutely offensive), new scholars can maintain a sense of independence in their work. In other words, now is the time to demonstrate that it is not only in science and medicine that ‘valuable’ research can be conducted. Now obviously the practicalities of this are not as simple as I’ve presented it, but a spirit of resistance needs to be harnessed in the current climate.

            I’ve been surprised by my own reaction to the statements of the Coalition, as there is a part of me that is convinced of the importance of my work. To be confronted with the view that a large segment of society views the kind of work that I do as ‘ridiculous’ is deeply concerning.

            It is mainly for this reason that I think now is the time for scholars in all areas of the humanities and social sciences to come together to show that what we do is just as important as what other academics do. With this in mind it is not only worthwhile for new students to commence a research degree in the history or some other area of the humanities, it is absolutely necessary. 

A link on The Conversation also deals with issue in an excellent way.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Is it Worthwhile Beginning a History PhD in Australia?

  1. Hey Nick, really interesting to hear about history, I know there’s lots of work in sociology about what it means to be relevant and how this impacts PhD work. Also, I came across this today: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/09/why-havent-humanities-phd-programs-collapsed/279733/ might be interesting to skim through.

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