Another Big Drop in History Majors: Yes, This Is Still Happening

The world has much bigger problems, but this still bothers me. Last time I looked at this data I wasn’t surprised to see a decline;
I was surprised at how large it was. But maybe that 9 percent drop in history majors between 2013 and 2014 wasn’t aberration after all? Maybe we should have seen it coming as early as 2010, when it became clear that the history major at the big research universities was trending down. Or when it became clear that the “market share,” the percentage of all bachelors degrees that are history degrees, was in a noticeable decline—that’s been going on for almost ten years now. Regardless, now we are here: between academic years ending in 2014 and 2015, the number of bachelor’s degrees in history dropped by 9 percent, for the second year in a row.

Charts below are highly interactive, so rather than having to read my long, dull rundown of all the different breakdowns, you can explore, ask questions, and tell me what you find.

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More History PhDs (Again) but Fewer with Jobs out of the Gate (Again)

In contrast to the declining number of bachelors degrees in history, the number of PhDs in history continues to rise, according to the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). I’ve updated 2013’s visualizations with numbers covering those who graduated in 2014 (released last month). The updates are below, with a few brief comments.

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  • The 2014 survey shows the gap between those who have definite employment and those still seeking a job widening dramatically. Nearly 46 percent of new history PhDs were still seeking employment at the time they took the survey. Only 37 percent had definite jobs. In 2013 the difference in percentages was less than one percent.

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Other Humanities Subjects Lost Majors Too, but History Lost More

HistTreeAfter seeing the surprisingly steep drop in the number of history bachelors degrees awarded in the academic year ending in 2014 (post and viz here), I wanted to compare history to other humanities and social science subjects. After carving out some time during the holidays, I did, and found that yes, these subjects also lost students. But the loss experienced by the history discipline was still exceptional.

The first chart below shows the percent change in the number of graduates between AY 2013 and 2014 for several majors. All of these humanities and social science subjects lost students (and I threw in psychology and communication/ media studies for comparison). History’s 9 percent drop, however, is more than twice the average drop for humanities/social science subjects. … Read more

Big Slide for the History BA?

I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students earning bachelor’s degrees in history went down again. The latest data covers the academic year ending in 2014, so many teachers and administrators have already noticed fewer history majors in their departments. The downward trend is in its third year, so an uptick would have been a pleasant surprise and the downturn is no surprise at all.

But the magnitude of the decline is a shock. If the numbers are right and if I’ve run them correctly, history departments graduated roughly 3,400 fewer students in AY 2013-14 than in the previous year. That’s a 9 percent decline, and it’s surprising because no year-over-year change in the last 15 years—up or down—has come close to being this large. And if we look at the number of history undergrad degrees as a percentage of all bachelors degrees, we see a slide that started in 2007 and has continued into 2014–a year in which history majors claimed only 1.73 percent of all bachelor’s degrees.

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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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