Religion a Hot Topic with US Historians

1 01 2010

Religion has become the sexiest topic of study for U. S. historians, overtaking the previous favourite — cultural studies — and pulling ahead of women’s history  in the latest annual survey by the American Historical Association. Younger historians are more likely than older ones to turn to the history of religion. I bet that the tragic events of 2001 have something to do with this development!

According to the AHA survey of the profession, the proportion of academic historians working on topics in religious history is now 7.7%. The figures in other sub-disciplines are political history (4.6%), military history (3.8%), diplomatic history (3.8%), women’s history at 6.4%.

I have two thoughts about these stats. First, can an individual identify with more than one sub-discipline? After all, what is the dividing line between, say, (domestic) political history and diplomatic history? What about someone who does women`s history and the history of technology?!? Second, how would these figures be different in other  industrialized countries? The problem with the AHA is that it is so damn US-centric, even though it claims to be a global organization (“the association for all historians” says its website).  It would be very interesting to have some hard data to make cross-national comparisons of historians` interests. My impression is that university history departments in Japan are dominated by historians of business and technology. I know that in the UK, history departments are far more traditional in their curricula than in the United States– old-fashioned political and diplomatic history is still the norm. My impression is that in British history departments, there is far more business and economic history than in United States history departments. I`ve heard British historians ridicule their North American counterparts for an obsession with gender, sexuality,  postmodernism, and other newfangled historical topics.  It also my impression that few historians in France have heard of Foucault.

The stats also show that the US history curricula is still massively Euro-centric– the vast majority of historians are specialists in the history of “Western” countries. There are far more historians of Europe in the United States than historians of Asia, even though Asia`s population is vastly greater (and still growing).



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