The Sham of “Knowledge Philanthropy”: WikiHow and the Rise of the New Precariat

working from home

WikiHow claims to be a community of “knowledge philanthropists.” It’s a for-profit enterprise founded by Jack Herrick in 2005 that is designed for a social end: teach people how to do almost anything. To this end, Herrick and the staff at wikiHow wanted to create the best content possible, so they hired and are hiring Ph.D.s and Ph.D. candidates on a contractual basis for around $15 an hour to edit their website, to develop content, and to root out utter nonsense planted by internet trolls. They hired me on for a period of time, but don’t be mistaken—I was no philanthropist. I was a laborer in the internet mines. WikiHow’s pitch to potential editors is well-crafted, persuasive, and … [Read more...]

From South Gate to L.A. Live: Demographic Change, Homeowner Ethos and Redevelopment in Southeastern Los Angeles


When Becky Nicolaides chairs or comments on a panel, people show up. The author of the now seminal My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920-1965 always draws a crowd. As her book has assumed a sort of Crabgrass Nation status, the suburb at the heart of it, South Gate, has become an ur-text for Southeast Los Angeles more broadly. Nicolaides ended her study in 1965 but in her epilogue noted that twenty-first-century South Gate now served as a predominantly working-class Latino American suburb, representative of larger structural shifts in economics, demographics, and perhaps even immigration (though commentator Philip Ethington might differ on this … [Read more...]

How One Tenure-Track Prof Left Academia: A Beginner’s Guide

obama mic drop

I’m a former tenure-track professor of world and postcolonial literature now pursuing a career as a nonprofit communicator and fundraising professional. After 13 years spent in academia, not including my undergraduate degree, I made my career shift in 2013. I made the switch for a number of reasons, among them a desire for greater geographical autonomy and a longing to find a career in which I could be part of a team working towards a common cause, rather than a “lone wolf” researcher and professor. The most common refrain I hear from people in academia when I talk about my transition is along the lines of “that sounds great, but I’m just not qualified to do anything else but analyze … [Read more...]

Working for the Man?! Turning Your PhD into a Meaningful Job with the Federal Government


When I entered graduate school at the University of California San Diego in the fall of 2008, I knew I was taking a chance. Previous to my enrollment, I had taught for nearly 10 years in the New York City public high schools. Had I continued doing so that Autumn, I would have received a healthy pay bump for a decade of service and been one more tantalizing step closer to being a vested member of the union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Instead, I moved to Southern California and walked into a PhD program in U.S. history with my fingers crossed. Then again, I also knew the nation's public schools, especially in urban areas, nearly always need teachers. As a recent story in the … [Read more...]

Making Your Way as a History PhD in the Think Tank World

think tank word cloud

“It’s great to see you’re doing so well and working on such important issues,” my friend Alex—co-editor of this blog—recently emailed me about the nonacademic work I’ve pursued since finishing my Ph.D. Would I write for this website about pursuing an Alt-Ac career? “Where did you look for jobs?” he asked. “How did you approach resumes/ applying/ interviewing differently than the usual academic meat market? Where did you look for advice, and what was it? And pretty much anything else you think would be useful.” I feel somewhat oddly placed to answer these questions. I never applied for an academic job. I landed the first nonacademic position I applied for. I never put together a practice … [Read more...]

I Have a PhD in History. How Can I Survive in the Private Sector?

alt ac career

Depending on your background and experience, the transition from academia to the private business world can be frustrating. However, with the proper navigation tools, the academic-turned-aspiring business professional can net a fulfilling career in the private sector. In May 2014, I traded a career of lectures, grading, and archival research for one replete with finance acronyms, investor meetings, and business models. Yes, I made the drastic transition from history professor to partner in a start-up real estate company that utilizes technology to interconnect people, business, and natural resources. Although admittedly still a neophyte in business, I sincerely hope to provide insightful … [Read more...]

Stroking the Platypus

Time Enough at Last

What is information, though? And what is intellectual property? These questions bring us back to the issue of alienation, and the purported difference between industrial and service or knowledge labor. The celebrated sociologist Manuel Castells acknowledges that “information, in its broadest sense, e.g. as communication of knowledge, has been critical in all societies,” but he also maintains that the late twentieth century saw the rise of “a specific form of social organization in which information generation, processing, and transmission became the fundamental sources of productivity and power…”[1] What does it mean that information (and the handling of information) is the main source of … [Read more...]

ToM “Besties” of 2014

TOM best of montage

Hello there. You are now witnesses to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men. And it ain’t so simple, treasonous crime. No it ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why When Detroit’s Protomartyr released their 2014 album Under Color of Official Right (itself eerily descriptive of public discourse from all sides this year), how could they have known their mix of Wire-like punk dirges would be emblematic of the last 12 months? The year seemed punctuated by rough arguments, sometimes violent confrontations, and the kind of disagreements that as Protomartyr sings, “Ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why.” Yet, our little blog dedicated to engaging these sorts of “conflicts” … [Read more...]

The Magic of Crabgrass: Thirty Years Later, An Appraisal of Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier (Best of UHA 2014, Part 2)


"If I had added everything I'd still be writing it," eminent historian of U.S suburbanization and Columbia Professor Kenneth Jackson reflected during the UHA’s 2014 roundtable discussion honoring the upcoming 30th anniversary of his 1985 work, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. A packed house of historians dressed in their “urbanist best” greeted Jackson who admitted to being a bit “overwhelmed by the turnout but pleased for many reasons.” One can take for granted the enormity of Jackson’s most famous work Crabgrass Frontier (CF). Today, it seems common knowledge that federal policy in the form of redlining and racial bias in mortgage infrastructure … [Read more...]

The War on Poverty at 50: How Far Have We Come, and Where Are We Going? (A Conference Report)


One goal of studying the past is not to be trapped by history but to transcend it. -- Historian Michael B. Katz (1939-2014) ToM regularly covers disciplinary conferences. Last week, the University of Pennsylvania hosted "The War on Poverty at 50: Its History and Legacy." Your ToM correspondent spoke at the event while furiously taking notes during all the panels to produce the write-up you have before you. Videos of the event will be up shortly and embedded below. (Panelists, if you're reading this, let me know if something's missing or distorted, and I'll modify this account immediately. I tried to keep these as brief as possible while conveying the major thrusts of the papers.) The … [Read more...]


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