I sent my Call To Action note to H-Ideas on January 17, 2007. That message, based on a mix of anecdotal and real evidence, has resulted in some positive activities: the creation of this weblog; plans for a U.S.I.H. conference; panels proposed and run at AHA and OAH; renewed calls for U.S. submissions at JHI and other journals; etc. I could not be happier with these developments.
There were also, of course, negative reactions to my statement. A major one, aired in a few private e-mails, involved the notion that I was completely wrong about the decline of the field. Examples cited on behalf of those opposed to my view included (a) an ongoing (if small) market for intellectual historians, (b) intellectual history journals still in operation (even if only a few), and (c) the healthy membership of the International Society for Intellectual History. Those were valid points for which I had to account.
I concede, again, that—at that time—my empirical evidence of the field’s decline was lacking. I did not then possess any numbers on defections from intellectual history as a subfield (related to the U.S. or otherwise). You might say my call was merely an intuition—but one subsequently and quickly confirmed by historians with longer vitaes than mine.
Now, however, I own a small piece of empirical evidence to back up last year’s claim. This morning Robert B. Townsend posted a snapshot of AHA membership statistics at the AHA’s weblog. If you follow the graphs in his post, you will reach this one—reproduced below:
If I’m reading this graph correctly, the percentage change of AHA members declared as working in intellectual history has dropped, during the 1992-2008 period, from about 9 to a bit less than 5.5 percent. While this decline is not as large those occurring in diplomatic, social, and women’s history, it is noteworthy and substantial.
My hunch is that the drops in social and women’s history are partially accounted for in the rise of cultural history. Some have argued that the change in intellectual history can be accounted for in that trend as well. But let’s narrow the focus to U.S. intellectual history, if we can. It is my belief that the drop in U.S. intellectual history practitioners is more like that which has occurred in diplomatic subfield: it is a hard, real decline.
My still anecdotal evidence for maintaining the “hard drop” assertion, for the same 16-year (1992-2008) period, is:
(1) the overall decrease in AHA and OAH panels dedicated to U.S. intellectual history topics,
(2) the drop in explicitly U.S. intellectual history-related articles in JAH and AHR, and
(3) the decrease in U.S.-related discussions and posts on H-Ideas.
I suppose I could also point to the fact that there have been no conferences specifically directed to U.S. topics in that period.
I reserve the right to be wrong. Anyone care to discuss this further? – TL