New Survey of Humanities Departments Puts History in Context

Demographics of historyBefore the present economic crisis, history departments were hiring more tenure-track faculty than they were losing by attrition, and they were conferring tenure on their faculty at a much higher rate than counterparts in other humanities fields.

These are some of the key findings of interest to historians in a just-released 2007-08 survey of departments in eight humanities disciplines by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS). The survey was conducted by staff at the American Institute of Physics as part of the AAAS Humanities Indicators Project, and includes comparative data collected from English, foreign languages, history, history of science, art history, linguistics, and religion departments at approximately 1,400 colleges and universities.

The study provides the first comparative evidence on these programs in four years; offering a snapshot of the relative numbers of departments, faculty, and students in the different disciplines as well as some useful indicators of the ebb and flow of hiring and awarding of tenure in these departments.

The new study will be the subject of a more comprehensive article in the March issue of Perspectives on History and in an article (PDF) on the survey web site.

But some of the findings for historians include:

  • Baccalaureate Degrees – A majority of history departments (554 of the estimated 929) confer the baccalaureate degree as their highest degree, as compared to 171 that confer a doctorate as the highest degree.
  • Numbers of Faculty – While doctoral programs comprise the smallest portion of departments in history, they employ a plurality of the faculty in history departments (5,730 of 15,360). On average, departments that confer the doctorate average three times as many faculty members as their counterparts that only confer baccalaureate degrees.
  • Women in History Departments – There was a marked increase in the proportion of women in history departments over the past decade (from 28 percent of all history faculty in a federal survey in 1999 to 35 percent).
  • Recruiting New Faculty – An average of 430 faculty left history departments in the two years before the survey, but the departments recruited an average of over 640 new faculty (for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 academic years).
  • Receiving Tenure - Around 98 percent of the historians coming up for tenure received it (but nearly 22 percent of the faculty coming up for tenure left prior to the start of the tenure process).

The larger Humanities Indicators project, of which this is just a small part, provides the most comprehensive overview available of students, faculty, and activity in those disciplines. Modeled after the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators, the Humanities Indicators serve as a resource to help scholars, policymakers, and the public assess the current state of the humanities.

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