AHA Membership Grows Modestly, as History of Religion Surpasses Culture

Changes in Proportion of Members Working in Select Categories 1992, 2000, 2008Despite the hardships in the economy, membership in the AHA actually increased slightly over the past year. In our annual membership snapshot (taken on March 31 of each year), membership rose to over 15,000 members for the first time in 35 years. While this marks an important milestone, in real terms the 15,055 members marked only a modest increase (just 152 more than last year).

And beneath the changes on the surface, there was a troubling loss in the number of members in many of the higher dues-paying categories, as many faculty members and professional historians felt the effects of the economy. These losses were only offset by significant gains in the number of student members (whose memberships are subsidized by senior members). Students now comprise 28.2 percent of the membership—the highest proportion since 1996, when they accounted for 32.0 percent of the membership.

The most notable change in the profile of our membership is the continuing rise of specialists in religious history. More members selected the history of religion as field of specialization (7.7 percent in all) than any other thematic category. Religion surpassed cultural history (selected by 7.5 percent of the membership), which has been the most popular subject category among members for more than 15 years. (Cultural history eclipsed social history as the field of choice in the mid-1990s.)

Members specializing in the history of religion were working in most of the geographic categories, but the highest proportions seemed to be studying early European or recent U.S. history.

A plurality of the membership (38 percent) specializes in European history (lumping together all the different periods). This is slightly larger than U.S. history, which accounts for another 35.5 percent of the membership. In real terms, the number of specialists in both fields has been growing along with the larger membership, but more slowly than the number of historians identifying with other regions of the world. In 2000, European and U.S. historians comprised approximately 78.3 percent of the membership, where today they account for 73.5 percent.

Specialists in Asian and Latin American history account for the largest areas of interest outside of Europe and the U.S., accounting for just a bit more than 7.6 percent of the membership each. Historians working on the Islamic World and Near East comprise another 3.5 percent of the membership, while specialists on Africa account for another 2.0 percent. The remaining 5.7 percent are specialists in various transnational fields.

Demographically the membership of the Association is more diverse than the profession in academia, but only slightly. At present, women comprise 38.1 percent of the membership, while racial and ethnic minorities account for 14.9 percent. The proportion of women and minorities in the membership has grown modestly faster than their representation among historians in academia over the past decade.

Meanwhile, the membership has become slightly more concentrated at four-year colleges and universities in recent years. In the most recent snapshot, 61 percent of the membership was affiliated at a four-year institution—up from 56 percent in 2000. This is largely due to the growing proportion of students in the membership.

California has the largest number of members (1,593), followed by New York (with 1,461). But in relative terms, members are most concentrated in Washington, D.C., followed by New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the upper Midwest. Another 6.9 percent of the membership lives outside of the United States—down slightly from a decade ago when 7.2 percent of the membership lived outside the country.

A significant plurality of the membership earned their highest degrees since 2000, reflecting the significant generational change now taking place in the profession. Currently, 43.8 percent of the membership earned their highest degrees in the past decade. In comparison, in 1999 just 35.0 percent of the membership had earned their degree in the previous decade.

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  1. Adam Shear

    I wonder whether the increase in historians of religion has also led to an increase in members whose primary academic appointments are outside history departments. As a historian working in a department of religious studies, I often wonder how many other “non-departmental” historians are out there. Do you keep statistics on departmental affiliations?

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  2. Robert B. Townsend

    We do not formally track statistics on departmental affiliations, but does not appear that historians of religion are more likely to be employed outside history departments (at least those who join the AHA). Among the members who have reported their departmental affiliations, 70 percent of the religion specialists are employed in history departments. This is indistinguishable from the membership as a whole.

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