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"Digital humanities" by the numbers



Note: page no longer updated (1 July 2019)

As of 1 July 2019, the MLA Job List has a new interface. It provides no way to search or mark positions by date of publication, which will make keeping an ongoing tally much more difficult. Since it is fair to describe all the dynamics described on this page as static or declining, I see no good reason to keep updating it.

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 its final form as a slightly broader yet still blunt and informal test of generalizing claims for “digital humanities” as a growth area within Pannapacker’s own main scholarly discipline, English studies (which is also my own).

Within the domain of the discipline of English studies in the United States as represented by the Modern Language Association of America, the discipline’s main organization, there are two indicators.

  1. The number of “digital humanities” session at the MLA’s annual convention has been in continuous decline since 2014, a peak of the session-counting celebration conducted annually by enthusiasts like Pannapacker and Mark Sample. By 2019, the number of sessions at the convention whose organizers were willing to use the term “digital humanities” in a session title, in a session description, or as an official session keyword or tag in the published convention program had declined to 16, or 2.1% of the total number of sessions. While this is perfectly respectable and entirely appropriate, it is pitiful when set alongside the triumphalism that accompanied that number’s rapid escalation between 2009 and 2014.
  2. Advertisements for academic positions of any kind including the phrase “digital humanities” in any way at all (even as a secondary or tertiary specialization or non-requirement) in the MLA’s Job Information List (JIL) have never yet exceeded 6% of the total number of advertisements. Since its high of 91 in 2014–15, the number of such advertisements has bounced between a low of 69 and a high of 77.

1. “Digital Humanities” in the MLA JIL

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

Summary, 2013-2019

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 6% of the total number of advertisements annually.

This answers Pannapacker’s pronouncement directly. Under the circumstances, a five to six per cent advantage, in the non-possible best case (that is, a case in which one is qualified for every position that includes 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. The 2017–2018 publication year (77 positions and 6.0%) and 2018–2019 publication year (75 positions and 5.8%) suggested no growth in the number of opportunities over five consecutive years. If there’s been any change at all, it’s continued decline in the number of such positions since 2014.

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 ↓ 1288 1211 ↑ 77 ↑ 6.0%
2018–19 ↑ 1302 1227 ↓ 75 ↓ 5.8%

Sources of data

2. “Digital Humanities” at the MLA convention

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

Summary, 2009-2019

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, to 16 in 2019.

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, to 2.1% in 2019.

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


Additional data from 2014–2019 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%
2019 ↓ 747 ↓ 16 ↓ 2.1%

Sources of data

To do

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, 2012–2019

With the exception of 2014, total member registrations for “Day of DH” declined every year from 2012–2017. No “Day of DH” was organized in 2018 or 2019.

Year Registrations
2012 319
2013 ↓ 278
2014 ↑ 508
2015 ↓ 218
2016 ↓ 188
2017 ↓ 137
2018 No event
2019 No event

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.”