The Royal Historical Society launches its new Early Career Membership category today. Katherine Foxhall, RHS Research and Communications Officer, and Imogen Evans, Administrative Secretary, share their thoughts on why this is needed.
Scholars increasingly find themselves in a period that can be termed “early career” far beyond postgraduate years, especially when periods of unemployment and parental leave are taken into account. While we need to be careful with the analogies and comparisons that we choose to employ when discussing academic precarity, it is clear that casualisation has become a core component of an international neoliberal business model for universities. According to the most recent data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 51% of academic staff were employed on fixed-term or “atypical” contracts in 2018/19, a figure that rises among part-time staff.
These problems are structural. But learned societies who represent academic disciplines have a responsibility to listen to and advocate for the interests of their early career colleagues. Our new President-Elect, Professor Emma Griffin has identified career precarity as one of the main issues facing the modern historical profession. After all, as former RHS President Peter Mandler has argued in the context of hiring junior scholars on precarious contracts, “giving early career academics so little incentive to remain in the profession will ultimately cut off the future of the discipline at its roots”.
“giving early career academics so little incentive to remain in the profession will ultimately cut off the future of the discipline at its roots”Former RHS President Prof. Peter Mandler
What does the RHS do?
The Royal Historical Society is committed to supporting and encouraging the work and development of early career historians (ECRs). Since the 1970s, the Society has supported a monograph series specifically dedicated to ECR authors; the launch of the New Historical Perspectives series in 2019 extended this offer to include fully-subsidised open access publication together with extensive editorial support from senior mentors.
The RHS awards around £60,000 annually in grants to assist postgraduate and early career historians with research and conference expenses, and to facilitate the organisation of events. Doctoral fellowships with the IHR, and a range of annual prizes recognise excellent scholarship amongst Early Career Researchers (ECRs), from undergraduate dissertations through to monographs.
A collaboration with History Lab Plus (the network for early career and postdoctoral historians based at the Institute for Historical Research), resulted in a Code of Good Practice for departments employing temporary teaching staff in History. In recent policy work, such as our Race and Gender Reports, and our work on the Plan S open access mandate, we have tried to draw attention to the effects – whether apparent or potential – of structural inequalities on early career scholars.
Why a New Membership Category?
Until 2019, Postgraduate Membership of the Royal Historical Society was available at a very reduced rate for two years to all those registered for a postgraduate research degree in a historical subject. Many postgraduate members went on to become full Members or Fellows at the end of this period.
But as academic careers change, the years following graduation are increasingly characterised by many years of economic insecurity (including often substantial debt), precarious employment, the pressure of juggling the demands of large teaching loads (often in part-time or hourly paid positions across two or even three institutions), and the imperative to develop a convincing track record in research.
The new category will, we hope, attract a wider membership and thus provide us with better channels of communication to, and conversation with, this part of the historical community.
RHS Council wanted the Society to do more to welcome postgraduate and early career historians into the scholarly community of historians. The new category of membership will hopefully provide a way to communicate better the practical assistance that we can offer through access to our grants schemes, book series and prizes, and expand the possibilities for offering early-career focused events.
Most importantly, the new membership category will, we hope, attract a wider membership and thus provide us with better channels of communication to, and conversation with, this part of the historical community. With this in mind, we are planning to offer early-career historians a greater say in the Society’s work, for example through dedicated representation on Council.
The new Early Career Membership category goes live today and is free of charge. It is open to anyone registered for a postgraduate research degree in a historical subject, and to early career researchers within two years of submitting their corrected PhD in a historical subject. Membership lasts for five years, with the possibility of a further two year extension.
Find out more about ECR membership of the RHS, and submit your application, here.
We look forward to welcoming more early career historians into the Society over the coming months, and we would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.
Katherine Foxhall is the Royal Historical Society’s Research and Communications Officer. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imogen Evans is the RHS administrative secretary. If you have any questions about the Early Career Membership, or the application process, she can be contacted at email@example.com.