On Being Married, Being a Professor, and Getting Ahead

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Friends and colleagues often ask if I’m married to an academic. Most days I have to stop myself from saying “hell no.”  Here’s why:

From The Atlantic:

When I was a graduate student in history, I loved to read the acknowledgements sections of books. If you looked carefully, all the trade secrets kept within the small, competitive field were revealed, from who was the most helpful specialist in an archive to creative means of financing research.

Inadvertently, I also learned quite a bit about historian’s marriages. Consider For Cause and Comrades, in which Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson writes, “The person most instrumental in helping me produce this volume has also been the most important person in my life for the past forty years, my wife Patricia. In addition to enriching my life every day, she has been a superb research assistant, having read almost as many soldiers’ letters and diaries as I have.”

Ostensibly, McPherson, a professor at Princeton since 1962, is giving credit where it is most certainly due. To an aspiring female historian, this rather typical acknowledgement represents a looming threat. It can be found at faculty dinners, when wives outside the academy explain they, too, once pursued a higher degree. Without fail, they look at you a little sadly and say, “best of luck” or, far worse, “stick with it.” During office hours, when advisors described the paths of female colleagues, it sounds more like the summary of a horror film than a professional trajectory: few survived.

Despite all this, my cohorts and I believed that we were entering a radically different kind of history department, one where women could forge their own careers, rather than merely supporting their husbands’. Surely, the changing of the guard in progressive institutions had already occurred. A new study from the American Historical Association suggests, however, that many of the field’s problems remain unresolved.

Read the rest of this article here.

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