With permission from the University, the History Department is currently in the middle of an unprecedented recruiting project intended to expand its already large faculty roster.
Last year’s unusually high faculty turnover, which included five new hires, two retirements and one departure, might have suggested that this year’s recruitment activity would be a bit subdued. But the department is proceeding just as aggressively this year, History chairman Jon Butler said.
“We may have as many as 10 new searches this year, which is unprecedented for the department,” Butler said. “It’s unusual to get five new faculty in a year. But if our searches are successful, we’ll have even more this year, which would be a considerable shift in faculty.”
Butler said a need for more faculty sparked the department’s expansion. As the most popular undergraduate major, the department has to read between 220 and 230 senior essays annually.
At the moment, the department is actively searching for seven new professors, including two at the senior level.
After failing to net a senior appointment for modern Japanese history last year, Butler said the department is currently trying to decide its course of action for another offer. In the interim, visiting history professor Takashi Yoshida is teaching a course on the subject.
“Compared to Chinese history, I think Japanese history is not so strong at Yale,” Yoshida said. “I think Yale should spend the time and the money to hire a senior scholar in Japanese history.”
Princeton University professor Laura Engelstein is the leading candidate for a senior appointment in modern Russian history, said Paul Freedman, director of undergraduate studies for history.
Attempting to broaden course offerings, the department has also begun advertising junior positions for the history of medicine, Caribbean history, history of Byzantium, post-1945 U.S. history, and 20th century Middle Eastern history.
“[The appointments] will affect the courses that will be offered to students,” Freedman said. “It’ll add some new fields and replace some fields that we haven’t offered in a long time.”
Butler said Caribbean history would be an exciting addition to the department.
“It’s a very promising field at the junior level,” Butler said. “It’s interesting because of its extraordinary mix of ethnicities, languages and religions. In a peculiar way, the Caribbean prefaces the coming of multiethnic societies in the rest of the world.”
The department is also trying to revive Byzantine history, a field which has not been taught regularly since the retirement of Deno Geanakoplos in 1988.
But despite the department’s renewed commitment to world history, Freedman said the department would also build on its strengths.
“We have no intentions of sacrificing anything in the traditional fields of European or American history,” Freedman said. “There are always new kinds of questions and concerns within those traditional fields.”
In fact, the department is also seeking authorization to advertise positions in 19th century U.S. history and American women’s history.
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said this recent expansion presented a stark contrast to the department’s state in the early 1990s.
“Six or eight years ago, the History Department was very anxious because it had so many major retirements coming along at the same time,” Brodhead said. “But in recent years, the department has had enormous success in hiring top scholars who are also great professors, and I presume they’ll have that same success again this year.”
Butler said this recent shift in faculty does not have negative implications.
“It signals a lot of activity and vigorous thinking,” Butler said. “Instability can, in fact, be lethargy, and this is not a lethargic department.”
But expansion does not come without its sacrifices. The standard pattern for academic recruiting includes a comprehensive review of the person’s works as well as three or four campus visits.
“It’s a costly process in terms of money and time,” history professor John Gaddis said. “But the University has been generous in giving us financial resources, so we have no problem carrying these costs. The bigger problem is time.”
History major Noreen Brody ’03 said that while she is excited about the prospect of more diverse course offerings, there are other issues that could be addressed by the department.
“I think studying history from a different perspective is important,” Brody said. “I’ve used art, literature and some other different methods in studying history, and I thought that was more interesting than standard, textbook style criticisms.”