Visualizing the Specializations of Historians: An Experiment with Networks

ishot-7This starburst is the result of an experiment in visualizing the relationships between history specializations. The circles (or nodes) represent specializations, and are colored and sized by the number of historians in my sample who claimed that specialization. The lines (or edges) represent a connection between subfields, and are sized and colored by the number of historians who specialize in both of the connected specializations. The resulting network is beautifully dense with connections, and by plotting it in Tableau Public, we can explore this universe with filters, zooming, and highlighting (more information and instructions are below the viz. If the filters are slow, you can download the whole thing and open on your own computer with a free copy of Tableau Reader).

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More World, Less Europe: More on the New PhDs from the SED

Update: I’ve added data from the 2014 survey, released in December 2015, to the visualizations below. It looks like “Africa” did not make the cut as a category in this year, which makes this analysis difficult. Likely the number was small enough to be suppressed to maintain privacy. 

I’m reading Lynn Hunt’s Writing History in the Global Era, which frequently reflects on the geographical broadening of research interests among historians (documented by Robert Townsend here and here, for example). And I was impressed to learn (via HNN) that, in Ohio, Republican State Senator Frank LaRose shepherded a bill to require high school students to take a course in world history before graduation (according to the Plain Dealer, LaRose noted the United States’ mere 4 percent share of the world population and added, “The other 96 percent have a rich history the students need to understand”).

Along similar lines, the latest data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates suggests that more history students are writing their dissertations on parts of the world that are not the United States or Europe. But it also shows that this is a slowly developing trend, and that the allure of studying the history of one’s own country (one that’s been investigated here) isn’t going away.

Rather, it appears that more new PhDs specializing in Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa means proportionally fewer students pursuing topics in European history.

  • In 1994, 39 percent of new history PhDs specialized in histories of the US or Canada. In 2013, after a little variation during the intervening 20 years, it was still 39 percent (see the purple bars below).
  • In 1994, 23 percent of new history PhDs specialized in European history. The proportion peaked in 1997 at 26 percent. In 2013, it hit a low of 16 percent (see the green bars below).

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