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Diversifying history: A large-scale analysis of changes in researcher demographics and scholarly agendas

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  • Stephan Risi, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States
  • Mathias W Nielsen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Emma Kerr, Stanford University, United States
  • Emer Brady
  • Lanu Kim, Stanford University, United States
  • Daniel A. McFarland, Stanford University, United States
  • Dan Jurafsky, Stanford University, United States
  • James Zou, Stanford University, United States
  • Londa Schiebinger, Stanford University, United States

In recent years, interest has grown in whether and to what extent demographic diversity sparks discovery and innovation in research. At the same time, topic modeling has been employed to discover differences in what women and men write about. This study engages these two strands of scholarship to explore associations between changing researcher demographics and research questions asked in the discipline of history. Specifically, we analyze developments in history as women entered the field.

We focus on author gender in diachronic analysis of history dissertations from 1980 (when online data is first available) to 2015 and a select set of general history journals from 1950 to 2015. We use correlated topic modeling and network visualizations to map developments in research agendas over time and to examine how women and men have contributed to these developments.

Our summary snapshot of aggregate interests of women and men for the period 1950 to 2015 identifies new topics associated with women authors: gender and women’s history, body history, family and households, consumption and consumerism, and sexuality. Diachronic analysis demonstrates that while women pioneered topics such as gender and women’s history or the history of sexuality, these topics broaden over time to become methodological frameworks that historians widely embraced and that changed in interesting ways as men engaged with them. Our analysis of history dissertations surface correlations between advisor/advisee gender pairings and choice of dissertation topic.

Overall, this quantitative longitudinal study suggests that the growth in women historians has coincided with the broadening of research agendas and an increased sensitivity to new topics and methodologies in the field.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0262027
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

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