Humanities Stay Strong, Prefer Print

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences released its second Humanities Departmental Survey Report in early September. The survey, undertaken in 2012-13 and initially administered in 2007-08, collects and analyzes information from humanities departments in a broad sample of four-year colleges and universities.

The lengthy survey report is broken down into an approachable series of tables, worth browsing through in full via the AAAS Humanities Indicators website. For scholarly publishers, there are several data points of interest: changes in departments that overlap with presses' editorial disciplines (especially those also reported on in 2008—art history, English, foreign languages, history, history of science, linguistics, and religion); the real presence of digital humanities on campus, assessed both generally and by discipline; the changing number of students in given disciplines, which may be predictive of future changes in department size; and the weight given to publishing in tenure decisions, along with how much institutional research support is provided for various faculty.

Good general overviews were published by Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education immediately following the report's release. Both lead with the fact that the size of humanities departments has remained surprisingly consistent between 2008 and 2013. The percentage of tenured faculty has also, despite frequent reporting otherwise, remained remarkably stable. Certain disciplines have shrunk slightly; most notably, foreign language programs (although basic language requirements for degree programs have held steady). Both outlets also noted that despite the rhetoric around digital humanities, their institutional presence is still limited: about a quarter of institutions have some kind of digital humanities center or lab on campus, but—a point of particular interest for scholarly publishers—only 12% have created guidelines for evaluating digital publications for tenure and promotion.

Robert Townsend, director of the Academy's Washington office, agrees that the report can be informative for university presses, noting "the number of faculty members on the tenure track was quite similar in our two snapshots; departments across most of the humanities disciplines placed the same heavy emphasis on published research for tenure; and very small proportions of the humanities departments had guidelines for assessing digital publications in tenure and promotion." Adding these trends together, Townsend sees "from the perspective of someone involved in print and digital publishing over the past two decades, the results suggest that print publications remain the gold standard for most humanities departments."

Within the academy, then, university presses continue to serve the current, actual needs of today's scholars, while anticipating changes that new digital innovations may bring.


Regan Colestock
Communications Strategist