Session #166: American Historical Association Annual Meeting
January 5, 2013, 11:30 am – 1:30 pm
Rhythms  Ballroom 1 (Sheraton New Orleans)

Twitter hashtags:  #aha2013 #s166 #altac

Updated Panelist List

Chair:  Anne Mitchell Whisnant, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Twitter: @amwhisnant)


  • Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, University of Texas at Austin  (Twitter:  @DrLaurenA)
  • Pam Lach, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Jason Myers, University of Denver

Panel Description

The Professional division is pleased to sponsor this panel as a part of the “mini-conference” on alternative careers for history PhDs, to be held as part of the 2013 Annual Meeting.  The panel features history PhDs who have chosen to follow a career in academic administration at a college or university.

This kind of employment constitutes a logical career choice for history PhDs.  By the time they earn their degree, historians (like other scholars) know the academic world well; most newly minted PhDs have spent at least a decade attending a college or university, and virtually all are familiar with the wide range of services (both in and outside the classroom) offered by an institution of higher learning.  Moreover, the skills acquired in graduate school—the ability to write well, think critically, organize a large research project, and evaluate various kind of evidence—are often the ones demanded of administrators.

Key Questions

  • What was your original plan or goal on going to graduate school in History?
  • What factors altered or shaped your plans and career course, and how did you end up with your first academic administrative job?
  • What is the specific configuration of your present position, and what do you do, specifically, in a  “typical” day or week?
  • Do you, and how do you, use the skills you honed as a historian in your present position?  What other skills did you need that you had to develop later, and how did you develop those?
  • What are the benefits and challenges of working in academic administration?  What do you like about your work?  What are the frustrations?
  • Do you still consider yourself, or have time to be a “historian” or a “scholar”?
  • Where you see yourself going — that is, what paths of professional advancement would you like to pursue and how do you see/understand the relative openness or closedness of those paths?
  • What tips and advice would you offer those interested in academic administrative careers?
  • Knowing what you know about your work and the demographics of the job market, what suggestions would you have about how graduate education in history should be changed to reflect the new realities?

Participant Bios

Lauren Apter Bairnsfather

Lauren Apter Bairnsfather holds a BA in Plan II Honors and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas (1996), an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago (2000), and a PhD in History from the University of Texas (2008), supervised by Roger Louis, past-President of the American Historical Association. She has worked in the Photo Archives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and at Spertus Museum in Chicago. Her first post-doc job was with a family foundation in Dallas advising on Israel projects and strategic planning. She is currently Institutional Research Analyst for the College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin.

Pam Lach

Pam Lach received her PhD in U.S. History and, more recently, an MS in Information Science, all from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the Manager of UNC’s Digital Innovation Lab, a digital humanities lab affiliated with the department of American Studies. In addition to her administrative and project management duties, she is leading a digital humanities tool development team and contributes to a campus-wide, Mellon-supported digital humanities initiative at UNC.

Jason Myers

Jason Myers earned a BA in history from Oakland University in 2004 and a PhD from Loyola University Chicago, specializing in modern Irish history, in 2010. His dissertation was titled: “’A Land Fit for Heroes’?: The Great War, Memory, Popular Culture, and Politics in Ireland Since 1914.” He moved from Chicago to Denver in 2010. His current title is Faculty/Staff Support Specialist & Operations Coordinator in the Math department at the University of Denver (in Denver, CO). A monograph based on his doctoral dissertation is under contract with Academica Press and should be published in 2012 or 2013 as The Great War and Memory in Irish Culture, 1918-2010.

Anne Mitchell Whisnant

Anne Mitchell Whisnant has developed a “portfolio career” as Deputy Secretary of the Faculty and Adjunct Associate Professor of History and American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an active public historian working on National Park Service issues. As Deputy Secretary of the Faculty in the Office of Faculty Governance, she provides professional support for the over 3500 members of UNC’s voting-eligible faculty, their Faculty Council, Chair of the Faculty, Secretary of the Faculty, and 22 appointed and elected standing committees.  As a historian, she is the author of Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History and the co-author (with David Whisnant) of a children’s book and two book-length contract NPS history projects. She is also scholarly adviser for Driving Through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway (, a grant-funded digital, geospatial history collection being developed at the UNC Libraries. Each fall, she teaches UNC’s Introduction to Public History course.

Anne has been heavily involved since 2002 in shaping a national conversation about post-PhD career development issues.  She has served as an official mentor and content contributor for Versatile PhD (, and helped it achieve important institutional support in its previous iteration (“Wrk4us”) from Duke University.  She has written several articles on academic administrative career issues for the Chronicle of Higher Education and the recent #Alt-Academy collection (  Since 2002, she has organized, conducted, or participated in workshops and panels both locally and nationally on professional options for humanities and social sciences PhDs.  Anne holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she lives with her husband David Whisnant and her two teenage sons.