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Becoming a Historian                                                                  

 becoming_a_historian.jpgWelcome to the new and online edition of the Canadian version of Becoming a Historian! This ongoing project has been jointly sponsored by the Canadian Historical Association and American Historical Association.This handbook is intended to provide guidance and practical advice to graduate history students in Canadian universities and junior history professors employed in Canadian institutions.


In addition to updated information and an expanded bibliography of resource materials, this second edition includes new chapters on sessional jobs, postdoctoral fellowships, becoming a public historian, and pursuing a career outside the academy. Students in US programs contemplating a career in a Canadian university will find much practical information about the Canadian scene. We encourage candidates in Canadian programs who intend to seek jobs in the United States to consult both this manual and the many publications available through the website of the American Historical Association (AHA).

In 1999, Franca Iacovetta and Molly Ladd Taylor co-ordinated a collaborative project that produced the first Canadian version of the original AHA manual; they also edited the final product. As CHA Council member with the portfolio for women and graduate students, Franca Iacovetta had initiated the project, which was endorsed by the CHA's Canadian Committee on Women's History and the CHA's Graduate Students’ Committee.

We were grateful to Melanie Gustafson, editor of the original AHA manual, the AHA Committee on Women Historians, and the AHA for their permission to use, revise, and "Canadianize" their manual. Since then, the English-language paper edition of our manual sold out, and Melanie Gustafson incorporated some of our material in her revised AHA handbook. We thank her again for her generosity in sharing with us her original manual. The initiative for this new Canadian edition came from CHA Council, which also provided funds for the French-language version of the manual, and the CHA’s Graduate Students’ Committee, which adopted the manual as a major project and provided on-going feedback and support. We are deeply indebted to the energetic, enthusiastic and hardworking members of the Canadianwide taskforce of what became known as the “BaH” project. Catherine Carstairs, Dominque Clément, Robert Dennis, Lisa Helps, Rhonda Hinther, and Heather Steel worked very closely with us at every stage. They solicited feedback and supporting materials from students and faculty at universities across the country, ran study sessions, carried out research, and together wrote most of the revised and new chapters. They also kept us in good humour as we edited the final volume during long workdays at each other’s homes while juggling undergraduate and graduate teaching loads, conference commitments, committee duties, and other writing deadlines. We owe a special thanks to Sabine Hikel for accepting our invitation to write a chapter on pursuing a non-academic career.

We particularly thank Dominique for his excellent co-ordination and computer skills, Lisa for building www.becomingahistorian.ca, and CHA webmaster Mark Humphries for getting the final version onto the CHA website.

We also thank the members of our Graduate Student Revision Committee for their critical reading of the original Canadian handbook and helpful suggestions for revision: Laurie Bertram, Caroline Durand, Jenny Ellison, Jarrett Henderson, Brian Shipley, Benjamin Potroff, and Danielle Terbenche. Numerous colleagues took time out from their busy schedules to field questions, fill specific requests, and provide feedback on earlier drafts. Many thanks to Denyse Baillargeon, Daniel Bender, Margaret Conrad, Krista Cooke, Lisa Chilton, Catherine Desbarets, Magda Fahrni, Allan Greer, Alan Gordon, Craig Heron, Suzanne Morton, Natalie Rothman, and Stuart McCook.

As the text and links to this online manual show, many people generously shared with us their personal experiences, strategies, and/or their curricula vitae, job letters, or grant applications. We thank them for their generosity. We know that readers will benefit from their contributions. For several years, Jim Naylor has assigned Becoming a Historian to his upper level undergraduate students at Brandon University, and we thank him, and the students of his 2007 class, for sharing their responses to the manual. We kept their replies and insights in mind as we completed the new edition. We appreciate the continuing support of the CHA’s Canadian Committee of Women’s History.

We owe a special debt to the many people who shared with us their personal anecdotes; in some cases, we explicitly incorporated their story or observation, in other cases, we used their personal experiences to inform our discussion particularly of the more sensitive issues raised in the manual. At the CHA office, Joanne Mineault and Marielle Campeau offered us helpful assistance. Finally, we thank Paul St-Jean of XL Translations for the French translation of the handbook. As editors, we accept responsibility for any errors. We also encourage readers who spot errors or out-of-date information to let us know about them: one of the benefits of an online version, of course, is that corrections can be more easily made.

We have updated the original CHA manual in response to the changes in graduate student funding, the job market, scholarly publishing, and other academic practises across North America since 1999. For example, funding for PhD studies in Canada has improved significantly since we wrote the first version of the manual, and the internet has transformed our teaching, research, and publications.

Departmental websites have made it easier for job candidates to research the department that interviews them, but also raised the bar with respect to how much candidates are expected to know about a hiring department’s faculty and the university as a whole. Employment equity policies and the growth of multidisciplinary fields such as sexuality studies and disability studies have led to progress in hiring and support for openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) faculty, faculty with disabilities, people of colour, Aboriginal faculty, and especially women. However, we do not want to exaggerate the changes; we still have a very long way to go towards addressing pressing equity issues. We have seen an enormous growth in Canadian Aboriginal history, for example, but the scholars remain overwhelmingly white. The manual acknowledges the failure of history departments across Canada to recruit or hire more than a handful of Aboriginal historians and historians of colour: the CHA (unlike the AHA) has shied away from adopting strategies to promote the diversification of the Canadian historical profession. This is frustrating because racial diversity is not just a big city issue, but a national and international one.

The handbook also discusses the continuing problems of discrimination and sexual harassment on the job, and the challenges of juggling family and career. But the main aim has been to guide you through the various stages of becoming a historian, from a promising graduate history student to a practising scholar. And a good deal of the basic advice remains the same as it was in 1999. Of course, this new edition of Becoming a Historian also builds upon the work of those who helped with the original 1999 Canadian handbook. We remain indebted to the members of the original collective who co-wrote the first handbook and wish them continuing success in their professional careers: Adele Perry, Stephen Heathorn, Lykke de la Cour, Edmund Abaka, Lisa Dillon and Lorraine O'Donnell. Similarly, the valuable advice we had received from Ramsay Cook, Gerry Friesen, Sylvia Van Kirk, John-Paul Himka, Bill Waiser, Catherine Carstairs, James Bothwell, and Serge Cipko continues to inform this new edition. On CHA Council, Ruby Heap had shepherded us through the final production process. Finally, in discussing the joys of being a practising historian, we have once again relied upon the eloquent reflections provided by John Beattie, Margaret Conrad, Natalie Zemon Davis, Nadia Fahmy-Eid, Craig Heron, Michele Johnson, Greg Kealey, Jim Miller and Veronica Strong-Boag. In writing this new and online edition of the Becoming a Historian manual, we have once again expended a lot of advice – and, once again, we have learned a lot. We hope that it will help graduate students – our own and others – and junior colleagues to become historians or otherwise build meaningful professional careers.

Franca Iacovetta, Department of History - University of Toronto
Molly Ladd-Taylor, Department of History - University of York

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