How does American social science observe the world? This project examines social-scientific journal articles, books, doctoral dissertations, and disciplinary awards to see how often each world region has been studied over the past half-century. The dataset that this project generates will allow us to track the trends in scholarly attention to various parts of the world, and to test theories in the sociology of social science about how researchers select subjects for study.

The patterns that emerge from this research will help to inform social scientists and educational policymakers about trends and possible gaps in scholarly attention to different regions of the world. The internationalization of American higher education has been a longstanding concern in academia and in policy circles; this work moves the debate beyond the overall level of internationalization to a more detailed break-out of internationalization by region. The project includes a dissemination phase in order to present the results of this research to annual meetings of national professional organizations, in order to spur discussion of the research findings and explore educational policy responses.

Project Report

This project obtained, merged, and analyzed more than 30 million bibliographic records to track trends in the study of world regions in U.S. social science over the past half century. The project developed a text-analysis algorithm to identify the geographic focus of these scholarly journal articles, books, and dissertations. The project found that international studies have increased greatly in absolute terms since 1960, but have increased their share of scholarly attention only modestly over this period. This share varies across the seven social sciences that were the focus of the project (anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology), but has not kept pace with the internationalization of the demographics of U.S. social scientists, the changing demographics of the U.S. population as a whole, the globalization of the U.S. economy, and the expectations of education policy-makers and scholarly professional associations over the past half century. The leading focus of international studies in U.S. social science remains Western Europe, just as it was in 1960. Latin America remains a secondary focus. Focus on Eastern Europe has declined over the past half-century, beginning in the 1970s even before the end of the Cold War. The Middle East has increased its share of scholarly attention in U.S. social sciences, but still occupies a small portion of the overall scholarly output, along with East Asia, South and Southeast Asia, and Subsaharan Africa.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Saylor Breckenridge
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill
United States
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