Continuing Blog Post Series: Medievalists Beyond the Tenure Track

Danielle Griego received her PhD in History from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2018. She is currently an Independent Scholar, editing her manuscript and working on an essay in a forthcoming edited volume on medieval childhood. Her work focuses on emotional responses to child death in later medieval England. 

What are you going to do with the PhD when you graduate? Are you going to teach? These are perhaps the most daunting questions to hear as a graduate student in medieval studies for many reasons. For one, the academic job market is increasingly precarious and is even more uncertain now because of the economic challenges caused by COVID-19. But also because of the tremendous amount of pressure placed on students to find viable tenure-track careers after graduation.

Many times, the term “alt-ac” is used as a negative, suggesting that a career outside of academia is unfulfilling or an indication of failure. For many medievalists like myself, however, jobs in museums, historical societies, and libraries are neither unfulfilling nor alternative. While I enjoyed teaching in the university classroom, I knew early on that I also wanted to pursue jobs in public history. As I started to navigate the job market, I realized that those types of careers are rewarding and can provide a platform to teach, research, write, and remain active in the field of medieval studies.

My Journey:

Growing up in rural New Mexico, in a predominately Hispanic and Native American community, I drove by the Spanish landmarks and native pueblos that dotted the landscape every day. My experiences shaped the way I thought about contributing to history and inspired my desire to learn about material culture. I decided to enter the Archaeology program at The University of New Mexico and quickly became interested in the courses surrounding the Middle Ages. Wanting to know more about the historical aspect of the period, I went on to get an MPhil in Medieval History at Cambridge University and decided to continue my studies by entering the History PhD program at The University of Missouri-Columbia in 2012.

While finishing graduate coursework and working as a TA, a former archaeology colleague from New Mexico asked if I would be interested in freelancing (remotely) as a historian with her South Dakota based cultural resource management group. The organization specialized in archaeology, history, geophysics, and paleontology and needed someone with an archaeology/history background to research potential archaeological sites throughout Missouri before the construction of businesses or residences took place. The job was rewarding; the position’s flexibility allowed me to earn an extra income while keeping up with dissertation research. Moreover, I felt an increased connection to the material record and realized I was also bringing awareness to the value of cultural preservation.

In  May 2018, I defended my dissertation on the textual and physical representations of grief in medieval accounts of child death. Afterwards, I continued to freelance, but without the support of graduate funding, I eventually sought out a more consistent form of income. With sparse listings in the academic job market, I looked for a variety of history-related positions and noticed a part-time job opening, involving educational programming, at The State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia. At first, I didn’t think that I would qualify for the position because I did not study Missouri history, but I decided to apply for the job anyway, since I did have experience writing, researching, organizing history conferences, and planning history outreach events. Later that summer, I was offered the position and eventually moved into a full-time role until July of 2020. Through this role, I was able to combine my love of history and archaeology and continue to promote the importance of historical preservation. I researched and designed exhibits about Missouri history based on local collections and implemented outreach programs geared towards youth, adult-learners, faculty, and students. I also served as the coordinator for the National History Day in Missouri program and organized the Society’s annual history conference, The Missouri Conference on History, which encourages the participation of all scholars, including medievalists.

Even though I did not follow the traditional tenure-track trajectory after the PhD, I continue to call myself a medieval historian. I publish essays, keep up with languages, present at conferences, and continue to work on edits for my manuscript. More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of the Ad Hoc Committee for Professional Diversity and to participate in the Medieval Academy of America Graduate Student Mentorship Program for the International Medieval Congress at Leeds.

Working at the Historical Society and freelancing allowed me to set aside time so that I could keep up with my research and remain active in the field. My work at the Historical Society, specifically, gave me a chance to bring awareness to medieval studies through National History Day in Missouri and The Missouri Conference on History. National History Day in Missouri is a program designed to encourage the study of history in grades 6-12. Students can research any topic of their choosing (as long as it relates to the yearly theme) and display their findings through websites, documentaries, exhibits, papers, or performances. Their projects then compete at the local, regional, state, and national level. I worked with students on projects centered on The Black Death and The Wars of the Roses, as well as with educators to add  medieval resources to their curricula. In addition, I was able to work with medieval scholars at The Missouri Conference on History and actively promote the participation of medieval studies students on the European Panel.

My goal has always been to teach and get people excited about history, both through textual and material analysis. Through my experiences freelancing and in educational programming, I realized that teaching comes in many forms and that jobs outside of academia can be used in conjunction with the university classroom to reach wide and diverse audiences.

My advice to those seeking jobs outside of academia or to those who are currently on the job market is DON’T LOSE HOPE. While the job market may seem overwhelming, medievalists have skills that are marketable for a variety of careers that will allow them to participate in the field and contribute in exciting ways. If and when it is possible, intern at museums and galleries, volunteer at historical societies and libraries, and explore the world of digital humanities. Not only will these be great opportunities to add to your resume and to see what type of work you enjoy, but you never know who you will meet and where these experiences can lead you in the future..

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