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Art History Ph.D.’s

Module by: Lawrence McGill. E-mail the author

To quantify the growth of the field of art history over time, data were collected on the number of Ph.D.’s awarded over the past 25 years in several disciplinary areas related to art history. These data were obtained from the National Center for Education Statistics, which collects annual data on degree completions from institutions of higher education at the level of specific instructional programs. The following disciplinary categories were combined to develop a measure for the number of Ph.D.’s awarded in the field of “art history” (for more information about the Classification of Instructional Programs/CIP taxonomy used by NCES and the methods used to compile these data, please see Appendix B):

  • Art History, Criticism and Conservation (CIP code 50.0703)
  • Fine Arts and Arts Studies, General (CIP code 50.0701)
  • Fine Arts and Arts Studies, Other (CIP code 50.0799)
  • Film/Cinema Studies (CIP code 50.0601)
  • Historic Preservation and Conservation (CIP code 30.1201)
  • Historic Preservation and Conservation, Other (CIP code 30.1209)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CIP code 30.1301)
  • Museology/Museum Studies (CIP code 30.1401)

It should be noted that Ph.D.’s awarded in areas such as Architecture and Archaeology were not included in these analyses.

Program-level data on Ph.D.’s conferred are available going back to the 1979-80 academic year. In 1979-80, the field of art history (as defined by the instructional program categories listed above) awarded doctoral degrees to 154 students. As late as the 1992-93 academic year, when 159 Ph.D.’s were awarded in art history, the number of doctoral degrees awarded in the field remained at about this level. On average, the field awarded about 156 Ph.D.’s per year over this 14-year period (1979-1993).

Figure 1: (Click on graphic for enlarged view.)
Figure 1 (ArtHistDocDeg.png)

In 1993-94, the number of Ph.D.’s awarded in art history jumped to 193. The following year, 205 Ph.D.’s were conferred. For the four-year period beginning in 1993-94, the field awarded an average of 198 Ph.D.’s per year, an increase of 27% over the previous 14-year average. The next five-year period (1997-98 to 2001-02) saw another jump in the average number of Ph.D.’s awarded annually in the field, up to 225, an increase of 14% over the previous four-year average.

The most recent two years for which data are available (2002-03 and 2003-04) show that the number of Ph.D.’s awarded in the field has risen yet again, to 260 in ’02-’03 and 259 in ’03-’04. This represents an increase of 104 Ph.D.’s per year over the rate that prevailed in the field just eleven years earlier (156). That’s a 66% increase since the early 1990s.

Is this rate of increase reflective of general trends in higher education? As it turns out, the answer is no. The overall number of Ph.D.’s awarded across all fields has risen by about 1 percent per year since 1992-93. But the number of art history-related Ph.D.’s has risen by about 8 percent per year over that same period of time.

Figure 2: (Click on graphic for enlarged view.)
Figure 2 (DoctDegrConferred.png)

This most recent increase in the number of Ph.D.’s awarded in the field comes at a time when the number of art history-related titles being published by university presses has leveled off and the number of single-author works being published has begun to decline. Year by year, the number of art history titles published by university presses between 2000 and 2004 has tracked as follows: 404, 412, 388, 355, and 390. Meanwhile, the number of Ph.D.’s awarded in art history over the same period of time (1999-2000 through 2003-04) was: 225, 221, 213, 260, and 259.

It may be instructive to look at the relationship between the number of art history titles published by university presses and the number of Ph.D.’s awarded by the field on a year-by-year basis over time. A simple way to do this is to compute an annual ratio between the two numbers, such as by dividing the number of art history titles published in a given year by the number of Ph.D.’s conferred during the academic year ending in that same calendar year. For example, in 1989, there were 239 art history titles published by university presses. During the 1988-89 academic year, there were 161 art history Ph.D.’s awarded. Dividing the former by the latter produces a ratio of about 1.4 art history titles published per Ph.D. awarded in the field.

Carrying these calculations out for other years shows that during the 1990s, when the annual number of art history titles published was growing at a respectable pace (95% more titles were published during the late 1990s than during the late 1980s), this ratio rose to about 1.8 art history titles published per Ph.D. awarded. In other words, relative to the rate at which the number of Ph.D.’s awarded increased during the 1990s, the rate of art history titles being published increased faster. As of the latest year for which we have both publishing and Ph.D. data (2004), however, this ratio has now gone back down to 1.4, where it was in 1989.

So, is there a “crisis” in art history publishing at the present time, or was the period of the 1990s a time of “irrational exuberance” in terms of the publication of art history titles? Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the relationship between the production of art history titles and art history Ph.D.’s has changed dramatically during the past five years, and that both publishers and art history scholars face significant challenges in coming to grips with these changes.

Figure 3
Figure 3 (TopArtHistProgs.png)

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