From the other 95% on the AHA’s embargo policy

By Razib Khan | July 25, 2013 11:55 am

Update: Also see, Pimpin’ the ghetto:

Pimps who run what little economy exists in the ghetto. They control the humanities ghetto, have old boys patronage networks to fall back on, and have a great deal in a slummy part of town. In other words, folks who get tenure-track PhDs at research universities.

The American Historical Association is run by pimps for pimps — by professors at research universities, for professors at research universities. That their policy does not help the public or most PhD graduates of history programs is besides the point. They are an old boys network protecting themselves.

The AHA isn’t out ot protect disaster tourists, or losers, or escapees. The AHA is by, for, and of pimps.

This isn’t too criticize pimps — if you actually love the ghetto, why not be successful in it? — but to say that not everything they do is in your best interests.

If you are in the AHA, here is your choice: You can like that, or you can get out.

To extend the analogy, do pimps facilitate good healthy sex for society, or do they encourage the spread of unpalatable contagion by perpetuating the ghetto and its conditions? You know where I stand….

End Update

In relation to the AHA’s bizarre embargo policy Patrick Wyman left a long comment which I think is worth promoting up. Observe that some of the same could be applied to the natural sciences (recall the Carl Sagan fiasco). So here you have it….

I’m a historian close to completing my dissertation, and this is pretty indicative of the general state of affairs in the discipline. Academic history, as a profession, has essentially abdicated any responsibility in educating the broader public about its research. There’s a reason most popular history is written by journalists and not professional historians: there’s absolutely zero positive incentive for historians to write for a broader audience, and in fact it’s actively discouraged by everyone from department chairs to AHA directors to academic publishers to advisors gleefully shooting down PhD students who had eventually hoped to do so.

This is despite the voracious appetite of the reading public for historical fare. People want to know about the past, and if historians aren’t interested in providing it, they’ll read whatever’s available without evaluating the source. The end result is that professional historians have made themselves irrelevant in the public sphere. What’s really shocking about the whole thing is that most historians treat this as a net positive: now, you see, they can really focus on their research without wasting time catering to people who can’t speak the specialized cant of the discipline.

Most dissertations don’t become books, and more importantly, most recipients of doctorates in history (anywhere from 85-95 percent) never even sniff the tenure-track job for which a tenure book is necessary. This statement is basically a paean to a time when the AHA could more effectively pretend (or if you want to be charitable, fool itself) into thinking that there’s really a future in academia for most of those who complete dissertations. It’s a cruel irony that the historians whom this policy hurts the most – everyone other than the students of the best-known historians at the top 5-10 institutions, who are massive favorites to get jobs anyway – would actually benefit professionally from the exposure that open dissertation access provides. If this policy becomes the norm, the vast majority of the research that’s conducted will never see the light of the day.

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Comments (3)

  1. chris_T_T

    This sounds similar to literature in the academy, which has become an end unto itself and has little to do with popular literature.

    • Patrick Wyman

      I think it’s becoming broadly true of the humanities in general. I’m a historian, so that’s what I talked about, but this isn’t a phenomenon unique to the academic practice of history.

  2. maharbbal

    where’s my pitchfork? thinking that Braudel’s books were once international bestsellers….


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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