A Vital Resource: The Humanities Indicators

Have you ever pondered job prospects for humanities majors, or wondered about trends in the number of visits to historic sites? The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is currently hosting an invaluable resource, The Humanities Indicators, which holds the answers to these questions and many more.

The Indicators provide summaries and context for publicly available data on the humanities, with information on students, teachers, employment, and the general health of the humanities in public life. Perhaps best of all, their information comes with easy to use visuals and tables that can easily be integrated into reports and powerpoint presentations. (Quick disclaimer: I’ve advised on the development of the site and a related survey for the Academy.)

On career prospects for humanities majors, for instance, the Indicators find that students in our fields do comparatively well in relation to other fields and disciplines—though women earn significantly less on average than their male counterparts. Nevertheless, the Indicators show that history majors earn at the high end of the humanities (with majors in U.S. history earning 11 percent above the average). And average levels of job satisfaction among degree recipients in the humanities are identical to or slightly better than the behavioral and social sciences, as well as computer science, engineering, and math.

The trend among visits to historic sites, on the other hand, is rather unsettling. In a potentially troubling indicator of lagging interest in the nation’s past, between 1982 and 2008 the proportion of the American adults who visited a historic site within the past year fell from 37.2 percent to just 24.9 percent.

Staff members of the Academy are regularly updating the site as new data becomes available. To fill some gaps in our knowledge about postsecondary faculty and students, the project recently received a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct a survey of departments. The survey follows a similar study the Academy conducted in 2007. With sufficient support from the history departments, the findings (due next fall) will help chart the effects of the recession on our fields.

Outside of the specialized surveys of the AHA, the Humanities Indicators project provides the best and most current information on the discipline and its place in the academy and the world.

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