The Job Market for Japanese Historians

This could be a very interesting year for the job market, not to mention for Asian history blogging. I know of three Asian history bloggers on the hunt for new jobs this year: none of them have started blogging about the experience, but I’d like to invite them — or any other blogger with an eye on the lists — to start, at least a little bit.1

It’s always been a bit of a curiousity to me that there isn’t more discussion on the blogs or listservs of the state of the market. Faculty with tenure don’t care, except perhaps about very particular opportunities. People already in tenure-track positions aren’t supposed to be watching the ads: makes the department nervous about their “committment.” People who are fresh on the market don’t want to … well, spook potential employers, mostly, though they might also be concerned about giving away too much about their own search decisions to competitors, as well. Me? Well, my blogging is already on my vita, so it’s not like I’m trying to hide it from potential employers.2 I’m a blogger: I talk about things that interest me.

Well, the majority of this year’s crop of jobs has been posted, and it’s time to take stock. I’ll start.

How I see

When I look at the market, I divide it up into four groups, roughly:

  • Japan jobs: usually at top-tier research or teaching institutions, these positions require little or no teaching outside of Japanese history (though interdisciplinary program-building comes up sometimes). A department doesn’t hire a Japan specialist unless they’ve got a lot of other bases covered, and large departments like that often have a strong research orientation, four- or five-course per year teaching loads, graduate programs.
  • Asia or East Asia jobs: East Asia positions usually want someone who can teach at least China and Japan3 ; Asia positions often include South Asia as a desirable teaching field. A regional survey is very often a required part of the teaching load, part of the contribution to general education. Sometimes a regional or period specialization is specified, which can mean either pre-existing programs or the presence of other Asianists in a department. These positions are usually in medium-sized departments with strong US/European coverage, and some non-Western history; sometimes these are fairly distinguished schools with strong research expectations, and/or very high standards for teaching, and graduate programs are also a possibility.
  • Asia + World jobs: A lot like the above category — China and Japan, sometimes India, plus a regional survey are expected courses — plus some World History teaching. Sometimes very large teaching-oriented departments, but more often smaller departments with a lot of general education service expected. Rarely less than a 3-3 teaching schedule, and specified regional specialties usually indicate what they think students will be interested in (or other external factors) rather than the presence of other Asian historians.
  • World + Asia jobs: Sometimes “Non-Western World” jobs with no region specified, these positions are always heavily oriented to general education teaching, often with 4-4 teaching loads and multiple sections of World History required on a regular basis. These may be small departments in large institutions (actually, they’re almost always small relative to the institution), medium-sized or large departments without a lot of depth, or departments which have some non-western coverage but which need World History sections more than they need regional speciality courses. Community colleges, if they have any non-Western history at all, usually fall into this category.4

I wonder if Americanists or Europeanists see a similar kind of segmentation, or if the descriptions shake out in a different pattern? I haven’t said anything about period specification. Sometimes it means that a department already has someone who covers a period, and they want to fill their gap. More often it seems like departments specify “modern” or “post-1500” because they don’t think medievalists or classicists are going to “speak to their students” or something like that. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like there are a lot of jobs that specify “modern” in departments without a premodern Asianist.

I haven’t said anything about desirability, either. Most people seem to rank these more or less the way I have them listed here, with Japan jobs the top of the heap and World-heavy positions mostly drudgery. In terms of institutional prestige and pay, potential for research productivity, that’s certainly true; in terms of what graduate students are prepared for by their mentors, that’s certainly true. I have a soft spot for the broader positions, though: all of my tenure-track positions so far have been East Asia + World, and I’ve really come to appreciate Chinese history much more than I used to, and World history has kept me on my toes and introduced me to history as a discipline in ways I’d never really considered before. Being something of a generalist has been very good for me as a scholar: perhaps it’s because of my transnational focus, but it allows me to draw on theory and comparisons and context outside my narrrow field with much greater comfort and understanding than I did when I was a callow youth.5

What I see

I think the market for Japanese historians is at least as good as it’s been anytime in the last ten years. There are a healthy number of straight Japan jobs: in the mid/late 90s it seemed that Japan’s economic slump (and China’s rising star) was cutting into the growth of top-tier positions. This year, though, due to some retirements, some movement and some expansion, there are some high-class institutions who are going to be chasing the top talent: UC-Berkeley, NYU, Boston, UH-Manoa, William and Mary, Arizona State, DePaul. There is a strong East Asia/Asia category as well, about a dozen jobs including Skidmore and Fordham, Colorado at Denver, and UNC-Charlotte. There are about the same number of Asia+World jobs, and about the same number again for World+Asia; lots of State schools in these categories. I’m a little surprised, actually, that there isn’t a more pyramidal distribution, and I’m wondering if the adjunctification of World History teaching has cut into tenure-track lines in the two World-inclusive categories, perhaps shifted a few jobs into the straight Asia category?

The market for China historians — at a glance, since I’m not focused on those jobs — seems strong: more straight China jobs than Japan ones, and a few Asia/Asia+world jobs which specify Chinese specialization.6 I only saw two Korea positions, which seems about par for previous years: at some point, though, Korea positions should catch up with Japan ones. South Asian and Middle Eastern positions seem to be doing well7 with a fair number of “Asia” positions explicitly mentioning these specialities as desirable.

Other things: more online applications, a lot of them using the same HR software.8 Fewer positions requesting transcripts and writing samples up front. Fewer ads mentioning “competitive salary” or benefits.

What I don’t know is how competitive the market is going to be this year: are there a lot of new Ph.D.s in the hunt? Are Asian history Ph.D.s starting to pile up in the adjunct ranks the way Americanists and Europeanists are?

How does it look to you?

  1. I’m not going to name the other ones here: it’s entirely up to them whether they want to take any aspect of this already grinding process public.  

  2. Like I could, at this point! Not.  

  3. I haven’t noticed any which mention Korea specifically, but sometimes they mention Vietnam  

  4. But they don’t usually advertise nationally, so it’s harder to gauge that segement of the market  

  5. And there’s the “reaching young minds” thing, since general education surveys are often the only history students take, etc.  

  6. and Chinese historians have an advantage in World positions, since what they study is a demonstrably large portion of same  

  7. again, I haven’t tracked them year to year, but it seems like both are up a lot in the last few years  

  8. We toyed with the idea of using a system like this once, but we were nervous about being technology guinea pigs for HR and since we require transcripts and letters on paper, it wasn’t immediately clear that it would reduce our workload. Anyone out there used one recently and want to comment on the difference?  


  1. Interesting, and gave me a few leads I had not noticed. Do you have any comments about the non-US job market, for example in Europe or Asia?

  2. Wait, wait. Perspective shift. The divisions that seem most important to me result not from how the job is named in the add, which after all doesn’t always end up being THAT important once you get the job, but come instead from what kind of an institution is searching: top-tier research, prestigious liberal arts, mid-tier research, mid-level liberal arts, regional research/MA-granting university, regional liberal arts, community college, etc. . . These differences, it seems to me, matter more in terms of the job-hunting experience and the experience of actually holding the job than whether the position is defined as “Japan” or “East Asia.”

    For example: top-tier research universities and the most prestigious liberal arts colleges these days tend to have similar pay, benefits, tenure and promotion expectations, and hiring practices. However some of these liberal arts colleges still hire under a broader title, such as “East Asia,” whereas few top-tier research universities do. The liberal arts colleges will emphasize teaching more but demand less in terms of departmental service and competition over resources and grad students. The research universities will usually have better research support, more competition over everything, and will put less stress on teaching. But otherwise the experience, I think, is closer between these two than between the other categories of schools.

    Also, why do you expect “Korea” positions to catch up with Japan? I see no sign of this happening. Other than UCLA, which continues to have one of the most productive Korean studies programs outside of Korea, and perhaps Harvard and Columbia, how many grad schools are cranking out Korean studies PhDs? I also know of only a handful of liberal arts colleges with any substantial Korean studies, and rarely language. Very few regional/MA-granting universities have substantial Korean studies. Almost all have some Japanese studies. Also, as far as I know, few colleges or universities DON’T have access to study abroad in Japan. On the other hand, most colleges and universities don’t have study abroad options in Korea.

    Finally, I would just say that this is a fascinating subject and thanks to you, Jonathan, for writing about it. I hope you will continue to write about the experience. -Morgan

  3. Overthinker: I know next to nothing about the non-US market, aside from looking longingly at the ocassional British or Australian positions which make their way to our listings.

    Morgan: Maybe there’s more freedom at the high end of the scale, but my experience has been that ad descriptions are usually pretty close to what the department expects you to do, teaching wise; the vast majority of departments couldn’t care less what you do with regard to research, as long as you actually do research which results in quantifiable publications. The categories I use are more based on what kinds of preparation and experience you need to land the job. It’s true that a certain fine-tuning of presentation depending on the institution is always a good idea: I have two versions of my c.v., for example, one for research-oriented positions and one for teaching-oriented ones (same content, different order), and letters always need to be specific to the ad and the institution. (Boy is that a lot easier than when I first went looking at jobs! Back then I had to go to Widener library and work through their microfiche collection of college catalogs.)

    You’re right about Korean studies: there’s a lot of infrastructure building yet to do. But something has always troubled me — though it’s worked to my advantage, to be sure — about the disparity between Korean and Japanese studies. I’ll have to work this out in more detail, but it seems to me that the difference is accidental, not fundamental to the field. Korean history is no less interesting than Japanese history, and the US is no less involved in Korean affairs than it is in Japanese affairs. Japan stole a march on Korea, though, and that has put Korean studies on the back burner for a long time. I still think that could be rectified in the foreseeable future, if Korea were to begin putting something like the energy and money behind promoting scholarship that Japan and now China have done.

  4. There seem to be three fundamental reasons why Japanese Studies is “bigger” than Korean. One is that WW2 was more significant that the Korean War, and has given us longer-lasting imagery; household words like Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima that everyone knows about, whereas to most people the Korean War is basically Klinger in a dress. Second is the dominance of Japanese products in the marketplace: while LG and Samsung etc are strong players, they have not yet achieved the dominance of Toyota, Sony, and Nintendo. Third is the generally “cooler” images of Japan. Think of Korea, and most Americans would be hard-pressed to think beyond the aforementioned M*A*S*H and perhaps Kim Il Jung singing “I’m so ronery”. Mention Japan and people think of samurai and geisha and ninja, plus robots and giant rubber monsters stomping Tokyo on a regular basis. All these three factors would seem to indicate a greater interest in Japan at the BA level, which translates to bigger graduate programs, and more PhDs in the area. To become bigger, Korea needs to become more popular – more people at the undergrad level need to be curious about the place.

  5. More broadly in the “Asia” category, I would also throw into the mix Middle East/Islamic World jobs that are being advertised alongside “World History” categories. A notable minority, in my perusing.

  6. You’re right, Manan: the overlap between Asian and Middle East/Islamic positions does exist. Technically, since most of the Islamic World is in Asia anyway, it’s pretty natural. Starting about two or three years ago, there’ve been a number of “Asia or Middle East” positions, which usually indicates a department which really wants someone to cover the latter, but will settle for the former if there’s too much competition…. given the strong interest in Islamic and Middle Eastern history, I’d think specialists in those areas would actually be very competitive for World and Asia/World positions, unless there were specifications they couldn’t cover.

  7. To that I’d add that some schools (esp. SLACS) want people who can also teach language as part of their teaching duties; while these are not ‘history jobs’ per se, people like me – historians by training, but w/ PhDs in fields other than history (in my case, Japanese) – often wind up in such ‘generalist’ positions.

  8. The discussion is really interesting here. Do you folks have any comments about the new openings in Canada this year, at least for the China field? It’s said that due to the (sometimes) compulsory age-based retirement requirement, the baby-boomers in Canada will retire on a large scale over the next few years and Canadian schools will need hundreds of new faculty members. That seems to be corroborated by the vacancies for China historians this, and there might be some opportunities for Japan and Korea historians in the next few years.

    Actually, for the Korean field, which is not so specifically divided into Korean Studies (often meant to require literature majors) and Korean history, the positions are already catching up with the Japan field, and the prestige of the schools this year are actually surpassing those recruiting Japan specialists: Cornell, Duke, Smith College, Stanford, Chicago, Penn, and Wisconsin-Madison. Indeed, these openings will beat the whole Chinese history field this year (the China field does have a separate subfield for Chinese literature majors) in terms of the status of the recruiting schools. The reason might be that the Korea field is relatively new and that it’s now time for the top-tier schools to start the fields. If this were true, then we would see more openings for this area at less prestigious schools over the next decade or so. While in the Japan and China fields, one can hardly expect to see so many top schools recruiting at the same time. Without Canadian schools joining the recruiting ranks this year, the China field would look rather gloomy this year.

  9. FC: I’m a huge fan of Invisible Adjunct, and I’ve been fairly proud of the fact that my department opened up a tenure-track position in World History (we all teach sections, but we have one specialist) instead of adjunctifying, but we’re exceptional. But outside of our little band, the rise of non-tenure track positions to roughly 50% of all teaching slots is deeply disturbing, and affects even specialist fields like ours.

    Ahistorian: I have to dramatically revise my view of the Korean field: the links provided above have a lot more Korean positions than the H-Net and AHA lists (which seems odd, and a little troubling). We may well be at the beginning of a surge — though the infrastructure issues raised by Morgan and others remain very real.

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