Historians and potential earnings
I think as historians we sometimes tend to think of our profession as being outside the ‘normal’ conduct of jobs and careers.
I interpret the most recent question as a problem everyone experiences in their professional careers, and is certainly not unique to historians; monetary compensation vs professional development opportunity. Is it worth working on this project or not? ‘I might not get paid, but I’m getting valuable experience.’
We can’t opt out of the market-based society we live in. Rent and bills must be paid. It strikes me that much of the ‘history job market’ operates on the fact that there is always a pool of cheap labour willing to work for next to nothing. Each year a new cohort replaces those who can no longer afford to take the low paid or non-paid voluntary opportunities that expand skill-sets.
It seems that when a historian reaches a certain level of competence and ability to collaborate imaginatively – skills that Will refers to in the question – many (most?) will find they have priced themselves out of the market. New grads and other willing volunteers not seeking a living wage, but now themselves seeking ‘experience’, can be used on projects at lower cost.
How to change the cycle? I don’t know. There’s a problem here that the market is screaming ‘don’t be a professional historian.’ But we all love history and hope to work as historians anyway. I know it’s my hope.