Academic History’s Midwestern Collapse

Jon K. Lauck has kindly alerted me to his important new editorial, “The Ongoing History Crisis,” in the autumn issue of the Middle West Review. It’s now available through Project MUSE. Lauck was the founding president of the Midwestern History Association and is the current editor-in-chief of the Review.

What’s extraordinary about this article—which isn’t very long—is the methodical way it documents the hollowing-out of history programs at colleges, universities, and other institutions across a single region of the United States. Lauck describes a profession in rapid collapse, across all kinds of institutions, large and small:

Around the Midwest, the news from history departments is grim, even at larger institutions. Iowa State University’s history department has been told by the ISU administration that its faculty needs to shrink from 20 to 8. The ISU doctoral program in rural history, a key contributor to Midwestern studies, is also being shuttered. The University of Iowa’s full time history faculty has declined from 26 to 16 in about ten years. University of Missouri: 30 down to 21 (over the past decade); University of Kansas: 35 down to 24 (since 2017); The Ohio State University (system): 79 down to 62 (since 2008); University of Minnesota: 46 down to 40 (in ten years); University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: 46 down to 36 (since 2012); University of Illinois Chicago: 32 down to 20 (from 2005–2020). Smaller universities are also seeing the loss of history faculty: Emporia State University: 7 down to 4 (over a decade); University of North Dakota: 10 down to 5 (in five years); Grand Valley State University: 31 down to 27 (in ten years); University of South Dakota: 10 down to 7 (in five years); South Dakota State University: 7 down to 4 (in five years); University of Nebraska-Omaha: 15 down to 11 (in ten years); St. Cloud State University: 10 down to 6 (in 6 years); St. Olaf College: 12 down to 7 (in ten years); Central Michigan University: 22 down to 15 (in seven years); Miami University of Ohio: 29 down to 22 (since 2015); Ohio University: 31 down to 25 (since 2017); University of Cincinnati: 30 down to 21 (in ten years); Kent State University: 15 down to 12 (since 2008); University of Missouri-Kansas City: 17 down to 8 (in 6 years); Minnesota State University, Mankato: 11 down to 9 (since 2010); University of Missouri-St. Louis: 14 down to 8 (since 2016); Truman State University: 15 down to 4 (since 2013); Indiana State University: 16 down to 13 (since 2015); Marquette University: 21 down to 16 (since 2017); University of Toledo: 12 down to 5 (in a decade). The cuts extend beyond faculty. Central Michigan University lost the Michigan Historical Review, a journal it oversaw for decades. Truman State lost Truman State University Press, which closed in 2021. Emporia State lost its Center for Great Plains Studies. The journal Studies in Midwestern History at Grand Valley State fizzled out. Long-running collaborative history conferences such as the Missouri Valley History Conference and the Mid-America Conference on History have also been terminated.

Most of the veteran historians who have been cut or downsized are not finding jobs at other institutions because there are none, as newly-minted historians know very well. Between 2019 and 2020 1,799 historians earned their PhDs and only 175 of them are now employed as full-time faculty members.

This article has instantly become the single best source (that I know of) to show anyone who remains complacent about the future of the U.S. historical profession. I would like the leaders of other regional and thematic institutions (not to mention the American Historical Association itself) to follow Lauck’s example in making this kind of information so readily digestible—and in being so honest about what it means.