Addressing Precarity at

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The Active History collective is thinking about how to address precarious employment, both in the way we operate and in the wider history profession. We want your help to do it.

In February, Active History was asked to support and publish the Precarious Historical Instructors’ Manifesto. Written by a group of historians who have experienced, or continue to experience, the challenges of piecing together casual academic-labour contracts, the manifesto calls attention to the visceral problems of the “multi-decade internship system” this type of academic employment has created. The manifesto makes 3 key recommendations:

  1. Universities limit off-season and online offerings to non-tenure/tenure track faculty members.
  2. Contract faculty members should be considered as part of the departmental planning process.
  3. Acknowledge that the university is not a functioning meritocracy.

To implement these recommendations, the authors put forward several calls-to-action focusing specifically on activities to be taken up by professional associations, history departments, faculty associations, and funding agencies.

Though we – the editors at – appreciate the manifesto’s authors desire to use this site to launch and publicize their manifesto, we are not immune from their critiques. Started as a volunteer-run website, Active History has benefited from the unpaid labour of our editors and authors, many of whom have made significant and important contributions to the project while working under difficult and precarious employment conditions. We have had several editors and regular contributors leave the project over the years because their precarious employment situation did not afford them the time necessary to continue sustained involvement with us.

The reality of precarious employment for historians is one with which our editorial collective has grappled on several occasions. This fall, we decided to revise how we distribute the small amount of donations we receive each year. Replacing our somewhat ineffective awards program, beginning in September 2020 will begin providing small honorariums to our editors and regular contributors who work for the project in conditions of precarious employment. Though these honorariums will not match labour market rates of compensation, it is our intention to recognize the time and energy that so many people put into the project while also balancing the challenging reality that comes with precarious employment.

Because our funds are entirely raised by donations, the amount we can offer at this time remains relatively small ($150/year). In adopting this new policy, however, we are also asking our community to begin making regular contributions to the project. Up until now, all contributors have been involved in the project in addition to their other personal and work commitments. We recognize, of course, that there is a significant discrepancy between tenured professors working on the project in this capacity and those contributors working under different conditions of employment. Our hope is that this honorarium policy will begin to mitigate some of those differences.

For the past eleven years, Active History has thrived upon institutional support from York University, Huron University College, and the University of Saskatchewan. These institutions have allowed us to stay online and maintain the infrastructure of our growing website, but we have not been able to secure funds to compensate our authors and editors. We have raised enough funds over the past several years for the honorarium policy to work in 2020. For the policy to continue, however, we will need our community to begin making regular contributions to the project. You can do so through Huron University College. Donations over $20 will receive a tax receipt; we encourage readers in general, and historians with secure employment, in particular, to consider giving monthly. If we are successful in this campaign, we will look to increase the honorarium in 2021.

To make a donation: Visit Huron’s donation page at Huron University College and select “Other” in the drop-down menu. In the comments section, clearly indicate that this gift is intended to support the work of Active History.

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