Executive Summaries of Medieval Studies Academic-Positions
Job Market Data from: Cycles 2015-2016/2020-2021
Compiled and Written by Merle Eisenberg
With Data Collection and Support from
Laura Ingallinella, Skyler Anderson, and Jonathan Henry
Below are executive summaries job data from the 2015-2016 through 2020-2021 job cycles for academic positions in four representative fields in Medieval Studies: History, English, Islamic Studies, and Italian Studies. We have also provided data for Art History and Religion and Theology, but since we lacked a specialist’s perspective, we have not included a detailed discussion but rather opted for two summary paragraphs. Although each subfield has its own contours, we observe the following broad trends which apply to every field in some aspect:
- A slow but steady broadening of job ads in all fields in two ways:
- temporally (i.e. job ads cover more time in both research and teaching);
- geographically (i.e. job ads require competencies in Europe plus another location).
This applies to “global” positions as well, which do not replace a specialty in Europe, but rather include greater expectations for wider competencies, both geographically and temporally. Universities are asking departments to cover the same ground with fewer full-time faculty, and the burden is falling particularly on premodernists.
- A simultaneous thematic specialization within these broad jobs. Where there were once open calls for “medieval” alone as a temporal specialization, specific “hot” topics are now frequently added, so there is also a narrowing of the range of topics in which candidates are asked to specialize.
- A clear Covid break in the number of advertised positions, which suggests that a similar analysis should be carried out in 2-3 years. The data from the 2020-2021 job cycle, with the few jobs in each subfield as of September 13, 2021 (e.g., 1 job in History), would suggest that the data collected is potentially already out of date and reflects a market that no longer exists. As of September 2021, there may be a return toward 2019-2020 numbers in English only (themselves down from the year before), while History does not show any return to pre-Covid numbers, and Islamic Studies and Italian Studies show a small return (but whose “n” is too small to draw any statistical conclusions).
- Based on these trends and without any changes, access to full-time faculty positions in all the subfields that normally constitute Medieval Studies in North America can be defined for all intents and purposes as a job lottery, not a job market.
We believe both parts of this analysis are key: data and contextualized summary. Each field of Medieval Studies has unique challenges and job market needs, so we have offered here both the raw numbers in an Excel document and specialist discussion in a Word document of what these numbers mean for an individual on the job market. While there certainly is no average job applicant, we do believe that job data must offer a sense of what it is like for someone to apply for a job within their field, not as simply a collection of numbers.
Data for all the subfields was taken from the Academic Jobs Wiki, with occasional supplements for specific subfields from other sources. This choice is far from perfect and misses some job postings each year. However, these trends would remain constant regardless, since the Wiki offers the most comprehensive account across all fields. Similar work by Simeon Ehrlich for Classics confirms these top line and specific trends, while Ben Schmidt’s data for all History fields (only subdivided as “Before 1789”) depicts the same overall trends. If readers would like a decadal length study of these trends, we suggest reading Ehrlich’s detailed article.
The goal of this study was to capture a snapshot in time of the most recent job market available. We have chosen to include only the last six years, since this roughly coincides with the contemporary job market, although Covid appears to have changed the market again (see summary remarks above). As the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association data confirm on aggregate, most fields witnessed a crash in the job market coinciding with the 2008 Recession followed by a few years of a slight increase in jobs to make up for these losses. These numbers dropped again between 2013 and 2015 where they have remained largely the same until Covid. We have, therefore, chosen to analyze this pre-Covid job market, which remained relatively steady rather than cataloguing a situation that no longer exists.
We have only included tenure track or tenured jobs in North America in this analysis for two reasons. First, understanding the non-tenure track job market is more difficult and ad hoc, alongside the fact that tenure track jobs remain an important barometer of the health of the field more generally. Second, non-North American jobs are far more difficult to collect and require far more analysis, since North American candidates can run into greater difficulties applying to them administratively. Moreover, our concern is primarily with the actions the Medieval Academy of America can take in its role as the largest organization of medievalists in North America.
Further discussion of each subfield and its context follows in each section below.
Future Job Data Expansion
We strongly recommend three key area of expansion for this data moving forward:
- New Data. As noted above, we believe the 2020-2021 job cycle likely due to Covid hiring freezes was the beginning of a new job lottery situation. We hope these trends do not continue. Whatever the case may be, this report should be expanded upon in 2-3 years to understand the new dynamics.
- Job Outcomes. We have made a few preliminary notes on candidates that are successful in the excel file, but further work should create a complete list of who is hired for these jobs. In History, the trend toward early modern historians securing medieval/early modern jobs is clear, but this could be confirmed in other fields.
- Leaving Medieval Studies. Ideally, the data should also include how many people complete a PhD but never secure a tenure track job (for any reason) and, more importantly, the tenure lines that are not replaced after scholars leave their institution (by choice or retire). We need to know the attrition rate of the field.
History Job Market Executive Summary
The Medieval History job market has held steady for the past 6 years across North America. Assuming the widest possible inclusion of job listings, in reverse chronological order from the 2020-2021 year through the 2015-2016 year there were: 4, 11, 8, 10, 12, and 12 jobs each year (total: 57). The lower number (4) may be an outlier due to the Covid Pandemic which created hiring freezes at both public and private institutions.
At the moment, there are approximately 10-11 jobs per year in Medieval History (not counting 2020-2021), which includes tenure track, tenured, and open-rank jobs. There are probably additional jobs which have not registered in the various databases, so this total might be pushed 1-2 higher per year to approximately 11-13 jobs per year on average as the norm, although this total includes 7 jobs which are either open to more than just assistant professors or are senior hires. These numbers obfuscate a more problematic underlying reality in the History market, as below.
Total Jobs: 57
Medieval/Early Modern: 14
The job descriptions included in these ads reveal that while a potential applicant could apply for every job available, their chronological subfield (early, high, and late medieval respectively) would make applying to every job each year unlikely. Moreover, even if they did apply to every job, their success rate at crossing these chronological boundaries would appear minimal based on the outcomes of these job ads as collected. In short, the job listing itself (and the eventual hire) removes between 20-33% of jobs a candidate could apply to or at least have a reasonable chance of success at. While a broader application job pool might increase an individual candidate’s potential success rate (i.e. apply to more jobs), scholars from non-medieval fields (ancient and early modern respectively) would also apply to these cross-listed jobs leading to an even larger applicant pool and thereby reducing overall chances of success.
Degree Type Breakdown
R1/Elite SLAC: 0, 7, 4, 4, 7, 4.
R2/Other Small Liberal Arts: 4, 4, 4, 6, 5, 8
These jobs have likewise been roughly grouped into two tiers: R1s/Elite Small Liberal Arts College and R2s/Other Small Liberal Arts This data analysis does not endorse that there should be a division in where scholars get hired based on their institutional degree. But overall job market trends have long shown that there is a de facto division between where candidates from Ivy League+ institutions get jobs and where everyone else does. The job market data we have compiled in Medieval History largely supports these trends, although there are exceptions. For that reason, we have grouped jobs in two tiers (more nuance would be difficult since the n is small), which are evenly divided in job postings per year.
While the baseline number of jobs, between 10-13 jobs per year in History, seems somewhat reasonable, the data itself reveals that any given individual can likely only apply to 3-6 jobs per year. In other words, a “standard” job applicant should only expect any type of success (defined here as simply fitting the job description and the type of institution) for 3-6 jobs. This small number seems hardly sufficient for success by a single individual. Moreover, even if we return to the baseline number of 10-13 jobs per year (again broadly defined, so in reality 5-7 medieval specific jobs), we question whether that is a sufficient number to replace retiring faculty or positions that are not otherwise replaced.
English Job Market Executive Summary
The Medieval English job market has been the most robust of all the Medieval Studies fields we surveyed. Prior to the likely Covid-impacted reduction in jobs in 2019-2020, the field itself was relatively strong in comparison to other medieval fields. In reverse chronological order from 2020-2021 through 2015-2016 there were: 4, 9, 17, 21, 17, and 22 jobs each year (total: 90). The lower number (4) may be an outlier due to the Covid Pandemic which created hiring freezes at both public and private institutions
If the last two years are removed due to pandemic related reasons, there were previously 19-20 jobs per year in Medieval English, which includes both tenure track, tenured, and open-rank jobs. There are probably additional jobs which have not registered in the Wiki database or were broad calls (English in any time period), so this total might be pushed 1-2 higher per year to approximately 20-21 jobs per year on average. However, if the 2019-2020 year is the norm and numbers do not return to the earlier three-year period, then moving forward the average might easily become half (10 jobs).
Chronological & Thematic Breakdown
English jobs do not lend themselves to the simple chronological breakdown that History jobs have, but they do reflect a similar trend: a broadening of the geographic time period in which job candidates are expected to teach. Jobs from the first few years in our database lean toward asking for general medieval teaching or specify, at times, Old/Middle English (e.g., U. of Alabama-Birmingham and U. of British Columbia), although broader jobs appear as well. By the end of the time period, jobs tend to require teaching in both Chaucer AND Shakespeare, which includes—like History—teaching medieval and early modern topics. At the same time, these jobs tend to expand to include more thematic topics quite frequently including (but not limited to): digital humanities, race, global, gender, sexuality, and disability studies. The exception to this general shift is at Ivy League+ institutions, which continue to maintain more particular specializations likely reflecting larger medieval faculties.
Degree Type Breakdown
R1/Elite SLAC: 0, 3, 8, 11, 8, 12
R2/Other SLAC: 4, 6, 9, 10, 9, 10
These jobs have likewise been roughly grouped into two tiers: R1s/Elite Small Liberal Arts College and R2s/Others. This data analysis does not endorse that there should be a division in where scholars get hired based on their institutional degree. But overall job market trends have long shown that there is a de facto division between where candidates from Ivy League+ institutions get jobs and where everyone else does. The job market data we have compiled in Medieval English largely supports these trends, although there are exceptions, as expected. The breakdown in fields is largely split between these two broad groups every year until the two Covid-impacted years, during which we observe an imbalance toward R2/Other SLACs. This would seem to suggest a relatively healthy balance between people who can apply for and receive jobs in each field.
While the baseline number of jobs, around 20 jobs per year in English pre-Covid, seems somewhat reasonable, the open question is whether these numbers will return in the next few years. Regardless of this question, the jobs are trending away from medieval specialists and toward a single medieval/early modern scholar or even a broader categorization of premodern (i.e., pre-1800) faculty member in many schools. Even if schools hypothetically alternate in their hiring practices between a medievalist and an early modernist, this would result in fewer jobs over time. At the same time, job ads have narrowed down the research and teaching fields of candidates from broad job ad calls (e.g., simply medieval or ability to teach an author like Chaucer) to new thematic requests.
Islamic Studies Job Market Executive Summary
The Islamic Studies job market is variable year to year compared with some of the other markets surveyed in this appendix. Assuming the widest possible inclusion of job listings, in reverse chronological order from 2020-2021 through 2015-2016 there were: 5, 2, 4, 10, 9, and 14 jobs each year (total: 44). The last three years starting before Covid have witnessed a substantial drop in the number of Islamic Studies jobs from the low double digits to a handful of jobs. Whether the recent drop is an outlier or a return to an earlier baseline remains uncertain.
Given the high variability, a mean average is not useful, but the last three years do represent a worrying trend line toward the lower end of the range, even when these jobs include tenure track, tenured, and open-rank jobs. There are probably additional jobs which have not registered in the various databases (especially since these jobs skew historical rather than literary in their approach), so this total might be pushed higher per year, but these jobs do include several that are very broad and thus are often counted in other fields (e.g., Medieval History or the search is actually a Global History search). At the moment, a specific average is difficult to suggest, but the total number would likely be at best in the 6-8 range.
Total Jobs: 44
Specifically Pre-Modern: 9
Middle Eastern/Islamic Studies: 35
The greatest problem for premodern Islamic Studies is that most job ads are extremely broad and ask for a specialist in any era of Middle Eastern or Islamic studies, which spans c. 600 to the present with under 25% hiring a premodern historian specifically (we noted hires as they could be found in the data in this field for this reason). Moreover, these open chronological specialties almost never hire a pre-Ottoman historian (i.e., a premodernist), but instead tend to hire an Ottomanist or later. Since people label their scholarship in complex terms, these numbers are less rigid than implied, but do represent the general trend.
Degree Type Breakdown
R1/Elite SLAC: 2, 0, 2, 5, 4, 7.
R2/Other SLAC: 3, 2, 2, 5, 5, 7
As noted with the medieval history jobs, these have likewise been roughly grouped into two tiers: R1s/Elite Small Liberal Arts College and R2s/Others. This data analysis does not endorse that there should be a division in where scholars get hired based on their institutional degree. But overall job market trends have long shown that there is a de facto division between where candidates from Ivy League+ institutions get jobs and where everyone else does. We have grouped jobs in two tiers (more nuance would be difficult since the n is small), which are almost exactly divided in job postings per year.
The key takeaway is that the baseline in Islamic Studies is far more variable from year to year, with the last three years substantially lower than the previous three. While the breakdown between tiers of jobs is evenly split, this also means that the number of jobs available for any candidate in the last three years is very low. Based on our data, there has been 1 job posting for a pre-modern Islamic Studies professor per year over the last three years. If we used the previous three years as the baseline, this would still mean between 2-3 jobs per year, which is then cut in half due to the tier questions noted above. In effect, there is no market for premodern Islamic Studies.
Italian Studies Job Market Executive Summary
The job market for medievalists who specialize in Italian literature has seen a significant and ongoing contraction for the past 6 years across North America. Assuming the widest possible inclusion of job listings, in reverse chronological order from 2020-2021 year through 2015-2016 year there were 3 , 5, 5, 5, 8, and 10 jobs each year (total: 36 ). The last six years have witnessed a substantial drop in the number of Italian Studies jobs open to medievalists from the low double digits to a handful of jobs, with a stable average of 5 jobs for three consecutive years until 2019-2020. Whether the further drop observed in 2020-2021 is a consequence of hiring freezes or yet another phase in the general downward trend remains uncertain.
Given these numbers, a mean average is not really useful, but the last four years do represent a worrying trend line towards an average of only a handful of jobs available annually in North America, even when these jobs include tenure track, tenured, and open-rank jobs. There are probably additional jobs which have not registered in the various databases (especially non-tenure-track positions geared towards the teaching of Italian language and culture), so this total might be pushed slightly higher per year. However, the counted jobs presented here do include several that are very broad and are not only open to Italianists of any specialization but also to literary historians who specialize in more than one field (e.g., French or Italian). At the moment, a yearly average is difficult to suggest, but the total number would likely be in the 5-7 range.
Total Jobs: 36 
Specifically Premodern (Medieval and/or Renaissance Italian Literature): 12 
Open to Italianists regardless of specialization: 24
The greatest problem for premodern Italian Studies is that most job ads are extremely broad and ask for a specialist in any time period and subfield, which spans c. 1200 to the present, with under 33% of job ads trying to hire a premodernist. Moreover, these open chronological specialties rarely hire a premodernist. Assuming the widest possible inclusion of scholarly interests (i.e. by including early modernist hires who list medieval Italian literature as a secondary research interest), only 6 out of the 24 positions open to Italianists regardless of specialization were offered to scholars who can be broadly identified as medievalists, which makes up 25% of these positions. These numbers would shrink even further (4 out of 24, 16%) if we were to count hires who primarily identify as specialists of medieval Italian literature.
Degree Type Breakdown
R1/Elite SLAC: 1 , 5, 5, 5, 5, 8
R2/Other SLAC: 2, 0, 0, 0, 3, 2
As noted with the Medieval History and Islamic Studies jobs, these have likewise been roughly grouped into two tiers: R1s/Elite Small Liberal Arts College and R2s/Other Small Liberal Arts Colleges. A useful takeaway from this distinction lies in the fact that while a notable contraction in job offerings for Italianists specializing in the medieval period has been observed in all institutions regardless of their tier, in the last four years there have been next to no new positions in institutions that do not fall in the group of R1s and elite SLACs, with the notable exception of two positions offered in 2020-2021 (both at Catholic institutions). This data speaks to the dramatic collapse of curriculum offerings and long-term positions in language departments in R2 and other institutions. We expect that, with varying numbers, similar trends will be shown for other languages with very few exceptions.
The key takeaway is that the baseline in Italian Studies is on a general downward trend, with the last four years substantially lower than the previous two.
Art History jobs from 2015-2016 to 2020-2021 in reverse chronological order were: 3, 8, 8, 4, 8, and 4 jobs per year (35 total). These numbers are relatively stable per year at a low number. Moreover, Art History has witnessed a similar trend of medieval jobs with secondary focus in other fields to explicitly medieval “and” jobs (with ancient, Islamic or early modern). This suggests that while the number of jobs has remained constant, who can apply for them has increased, leading to fewer medieval jobs overall. Further discussion from a specialist in the field would help fill in these assumptions.
Religious Studies/Theology jobs from 2015-2016 to 2020-2021 in reverse chronological order were: 6, 4, 3, 2, 4, and 6 jobs per year (26 total). This list includes some jobs geared toward professional clergy and encompasses a number of “Early Christianity” jobs that tend to focus on New Testament scholars. There appear to be almost no medieval specific jobs in a given year. Whether this is new or a longstanding situation within the field is uncertain but suggests that there is practically no market for medievalists who work on religious studies and theology.
 Annual application trends would certainly differ, but the n in a given year is too small and fluctuates too much to be significant, so has to be calculated on aggregate.
 If a candidate can apply thematically, s/he may have more success, but this is difficult to measure.
 One of the 3 jobs advertised in 2020-21 did not result in a new hire.