"Digital humanities" by the numbers

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Contents

What, why

This page began as a simple test of a prediction made by William Pannapacker in a 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education column titled “‘No DH, No Interview’.” Take it as a now slightly broader yet still blunt and informal test of generalizing claims for “digital humanities” as a growth area.


1. “Digital Humanities” in the MLA JIL

“MLA JIL” is the Job Information List of the Modern Language Association of America.

Summary, 2013-2017

The number of jobs advertised annually in the MLA JIL for scholars whose primary specialty or other professional identification is “digital humanities” is close to zero. The phrase “digital humanities” does appear somewhat more often as an identifier of a desired subfield or supplementary specialty. Still, the proportion of the latter — that is, of job advertisements in the MLA JIL in which the phrase “digital humanities” appears in any way at all, even as one of many possible, non-required, even non-preferred subfield or subdisciplinary interests — has yet to exceed 0.06 of the total number of advertisements annually.

This answers Pannapacker’s pronouncement directly. Under the circumstances, a five per cent advantage, in the non-possible best case (that is, a case in which one is qualified for every single position advertised using the phrase “digital humanities”) is without meaning. If you can’t justify your interests except through fables of market demand that collapse in the face of simple counting, then you’re doing it wrong.

At the end of the 2016–17 publication year, both the total number and proportion of such positions had declined two years in a row, from 91 and 5.8% in 2014–15, to 77 and 5.2% in 2015–16, to 69 and just barely 4.8% in 2016–17. Both were the lowest measures since before 2013–14, when I began counting.

It’s too soon to say what 2017–2018 may look like.

Academic year All positions advertised Do not include phrase “DH” Do include phrase “DH” % of all ads including phrase “DH”
2013–14 1671 1589 82 4.9%
2014–15 ↓ 1575 1484 ↑ 91 ↑ 5.8%
2015–16 ↓ 1458 1382 ↓ 77 ↓ 5.2%
2016–17 ↓ 1437 1368 ↓ 69 ↓ 4.8%
2017–18 (as of 2017-12-08) 863 796 67 7.8%

Sources of data

  • Search the Job Information List (for current year’s listings)
  • PDFs of the MLA Job Information List (for past years’ listings)
  • Reports on the MLA Job Information List (for past years’ totals)

  • PDF file including all ads that used the phrase “digital humanities” to specify a desired candidate interest or specialty, either primary or secondary, in 2015-16.
  • PDF file including all ads that used the phrase “digital humanities” to specify a desired candidate interest or specialty, either primary or secondary, in 2016-17
  • PDF file including all ads that used the phrase “digital humanities” to specify a desired candidate interest or specialty, either primary or secondary, in 2017-18

2. “Digital Humanities” at the MLA convention

“MLA convention” is the annual convention of the Modern Language Association of America.

Summary, 2009-2018

After rising from 2009–2014, the total number of “digital humanities” sessions at the Modern Language Association’s annual convention declined from 78 in 2014, to 63 in 2015, to 45 in 2016, to 41 in 2017, to 33 in 2018.

After rising from 2009–2014, the proportion of “digital humanities” sessions at the Modern Language Association’s annual convention declined from 9.6% in 2014, to 7.0% in 2015, to 5.2% in 2016, to 5.0% in 2017, to 4.0% in 2018.

Mark Sample’s data for 2009–2015 (after that line headed downward in 2015, Sample ceased publishing his annual composite bar graph):

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Additional data from 2014–2018 convention programs:

Year Total convention sessions DH sessions % DH sessions
2014 810 78 9.6%
2015 ↓ 785 ↓ 63 ↓ 7.0%
2016 ↑ 868 ↓ 45 ↓ 5.2%
2017 ↓ 805 ↓ 41 ↓ 5.0%
2018 ↑ 830 ↓ 33 ↓ 4.0%

Sources of data

To do

  • As of March 2017, the MLA now has a searchable program archive going back to 2004. Recount using this. A problem as of 2017-03-31 is that searching with the phrase “digital humanities” appears to retrieve search results that match those of the individual programs for 2016 and 2017, but the keywords are not included in individual session descriptions when viewed. Some sessions therefore don’t include the phrase “digital humanities” anywhere at all, though they are included in the results.

3. “Day of DH” participation

“Day of DH” is an annual one-day participatory celebration facilitated by member registration and blogging on a designated web site. Every Day of DH site since 2012 has reported a total number of registrants.

Summary, 2012–2016

With the exception of 2014, total member registrations for “Day of DH” have declined every year since 2012.

Year Registrations
2012 319
2013 ↓ 278
2014 ↑ 508
2015 ↓ 218
2016 ↓ 188
2017 ↓ 136

Sources of data


To do

Add data on DH-devoted conference attendance, starting with Scott Weingart’s data for 2017 and his preliminary conclusion that “the DH Hype Machine might be cooling somewhat, after five years of rapid growth.”