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Discussions about the ongoing health of the humanities in higher education tend to focus on a single data series: the trend in undergraduate degrees. The American Academy’s Humanities Indicators (HI) developed and has fielded three rounds of the Humanities Department Survey (HDS 1/2/3, with data collected for years 2007, 2012, and 2017) to provide a fuller picture of the field and supply the data necessary for a more substantive conversation about the humanities in four-year colleges and universities.
The third iteration of the survey, the findings of which are presented here, examines recent trends in the 12 disciplines included in the previous surveys (art history; classical studies; communication; English; folklore; history; history of science; languages and literatures other than English [LLE]; linguistics; musicology; philosophy; and religion). The scope of the survey was also expanded to provide benchmark information on four additional disciplines (American studies, anthropology, race/ethnic studies, and women/gender studies) that rest in the borderlands between the humanities and the social sciences.
In 2018, with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the staff of the HI worked with stakeholders in the scholarly societies representing each discipline to revise the survey instrument to address new challenges facing the humanities field. The survey was then administered to a sample of degree-granting departments at four-year colleges and universities in each discipline by the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics.
The center also performed the statistical weighting and analysis necessary to produce the national estimates for 2017, along with the comparisons with 2012, presented below. The last section of this introduction includes important information about the nature of the estimates for the disciplines included in previous rounds of the survey (referred to as “repeat disciplines” in the report). Please see “The Populations Described by the Estimates in This Report” in the Appendix for a more thorough discussion of the issue.
The following report focuses on seven areas of interest to the field:
1.) the number of departments granting degrees in each discipline
2.) the mix of faculty teaching in humanities departments;
3.) the number of undergraduate students and the types of benchmarking (assessment) practices used for majors;
4. the number of graduate students and financial support for doctoral students;
5.) policies and practices to prepare humanities students for careers;
6.) the incorporation of digital humanities and teaching methods; and
7.) policies and practices to support faculty in the range of roles they perform (as teachers, scholars, and contributors to the community outside their departments).
In addition to the broad analytical overview, there are additional sub-reports for each discipline in the survey.
The data tables on which the narrative and figures in this report are based can be found in an appendix to the report and on the Academy’s website. Also available on the website are profiles of the surveyed disciplines. These provide more detailed information on departments’ students, faculty, and practices (the appendix to this report also contains the data tables associated with all the discipline profiles; each profile contains the tables for that discipline).
The findings presented here encompass only departments at four-year colleges and universities. For information about the humanities enterprise at community colleges, see https://www.amacad.org/humanities-indicators/higher-education-surveys/survey-humanities-community-colleges-introduction.
Challenges Associated with New Disciplines
Of the new disciplines added to the third iteration of the HDS, three presented challenges. As departments and programs, “American studies,” “race/ethnic studies,” and “women/gender studies” each tend to represent discrete coalitions of faculty around a specific topic. Personnel often overlap among the three subject areas and with other humanities disciplines included in the survey. As a result, the estimates likely include some double counting of faculty who are employed in more than one subject area.
The disciplinary constructs of race/ethnic studies and women/gender studies also have limitations as topical constructs. For the purposes of the study, the race/ethnic studies category was defined so as to include every institution that granted degrees in a subject area defined by the U.S. Department of Education’s Classification of Instructional Programs as studying a race or ethnic group within the United States.
In the course of the survey, however, staff encountered resistance from some departments and degree-granting programs: 1) some defined themselves as a social science and refused to participate in the study; and 2) two programs in Native American studies objected that inclusion in the race/ethnic studies category represented a fundamental misunderstanding of their position as both a native population and (in one case) the advocacy role of their program. Some of the departments and programs in women/gender studies also objected that they were more properly understood as social sciences, but all agreed to participate with the understanding that the survey results would also be presented separately for the discipline.
Even though the programs and departments in race/ethnic studies and women/gender studies are treated for this report as part of the humanities (in keeping with the HI’s definition of the field), the HI appreciates that specific programs and departments have their own perspective on how they are aligned within and between the humanities and social sciences.
Guide to Interpreting the Findings Presented in This Report
For HDS 3, the HI used the same samples drawn at the time the discipline was first included in the survey. In the course of developing HDS 3, staff discovered that for each discipline some previously sampled departments had ceased to grant degrees in that discipline (either after the 2007–08 academic year, for disciplines first included in HDS 1, or after the 2012–13 academic year, for disciplines added for HDS 2). A check of the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) showed, however, that for every discipline at least a few institutions had started granting degrees in the interim.
This feature of the HDS—that it accounts for departments that ceased to grant degrees after a discipline was added to the study but does not account for departments that began to grant degrees during this period—is particularly important to remember when interpreting any estimated totals (departments, students, faculty, etc.) presented in the report. For disciplines that were part of HDS 1 and HDS 2, such totals may be an undercount; that is, the complete population of departments that existed in 2017–18 was likely larger.
Please also keep in mind that the HDS findings presented here are estimates. They are based not on a census of institutions (such as IPEDS, which is the basis of some of the findings presented in the first section of the report) but on a sample of institutions. This fact is flagged by the inclusion of the word estimated in figure titles and throughout the report’s narrative.
Statistically significant changes in averages and percentages from 2012 to 2017 are noted in the narrative report of the findings and accompanying data visualizations. If no change is indicated, this could mean continuity between years, but it might also be attributable to 1) the item having not been included (or phrased differently) on the earlier survey; 2) HDS 3 being the first round of the survey to include the discipline; or 3) the number of respondents being too low for a test of statistical significance to be valid.
In some cases, both averages and medians are presented. For averages, statistical testing was performed to determine whether changes had occurred since HDS 2. Such testing was not performed for medians.
Any references to the 2016–17 academic year include the 2017 summer term.
Finally, a note on terminology. For the sake of readability, department is used in the body of the report, though some disciplines—linguistics, for example—may exist at a given institution as a program within a department or across multiple departments.
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