Evolving History Dissertations

Study looks at how the titles have changed, and suggests shifts in research interests of those entering the profession.

March 4, 2013

The first paragraph of a brief study on the titles of history dissertations notes that the titles are "the most visible part — and some would say, the most read" part of the works. But the study, released Friday by the American Historical Association, suggests that the titles also reflect changes in the research priorities of these entering the history discipline.

Robert Townsend, the deputy director of the AHA, analyzed the 16,181 titles of history dissertations reported to the association from 1993 to 2012. And he also did a similar analysis of the 6,988 dissertations conferred from 1920 to 1960.

"American" is the most common word in the analysis of both groups of dissertations, not surprising given the number of dissertations about American history. For the recent titles, some of the analysis may challenge conventional wisdom about the state of the disciplines. There has been much discussion in recent years from some historians who say that issues of race, class and gender have come to dominate history, at the expense of traditional studies of politics and war. But the new AHA study found that "war" appeared in 11 percent of dissertation titles and "politics" appeared in 7.6 percent of titles. By contrast "women" and "gender" appeared in 7.8 percent of the titles, and "race," "ethnic" and "ethnicity" appeared in only 4.5 percent of the titles.

Where the analysis of titles from the two periods showed a real change was in the geographic focus of dissertations:

  • The percentage of titles with "France" or "French" dropped from 5.6 percent to 3.7 percent.
  • The percentage with "England," "English" or "British" dropped from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent.
  • The percentage with the word "world" increase from 0.4 percent to 2.4 percent (excluding uses of "world" in describing a world war).

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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