American Academy of Arts and Sciences Launches Humanities Indicators Prototype

CAMBRIDGE, MA – The American Academy of Arts and Sciences today unveiled the Humanities Indicators, a prototype set of statistical data about the humanities in the United States. The new on-line resource is available at

Organized in collaboration with a consortium of national humanities organizations, the Humanities Indicators are the first effort to provide scholars, policymakers and the public with a comprehensive picture of the state of the humanities, from primary to higher education to public humanities activities. The collection of empirical data is modeled after the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators and creates reliable benchmarks to guide future analysis of the state of the humanities. Without data, it is impossible to assess the effectiveness, impact, and needs of the humanities.

The Academy project collected and analyzed data from existing sources to compile a prototype set of 74 indicators and more than 200 tables and charts, accompanied by interpretive essays covering five broad subject areas. The Indicators will be updated as new information becomes available, including data from a survey administered last year to approximately 1,500 college and university humanities departments. The Academy views the Indicators as a prototype for a much-needed national system of humanities data collection.

“Until now the nation has lacked a broad-based, quantitative analysis of the status of the humanities in the United States,” said Leslie Berlowitz, chief executive officer of the American Academy and project co-director. “We need more reliable empirical data about what is being taught in the humanities, how they are funded, the size of the workforce, and public attitudes toward the field. The Humanities Indicators are an important step in closing that fundamental knowledge gap. They will help researchers and policymakers, universities, foundations, museums, libraries, humanities councils and others answer basic questions about the humanities, track trends, diagnose problems, and formulate appropriate interventions.”

Among the organizations collaborating with the Academy on the effort are the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Academy of Religion, the American Historical Association, the American Political Science Association, Association of American Universities, the College Art Association, the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the Linguistic Society of America, the Modern Language Association and the National Humanities Alliance.

What Do the Humanities Indicators Tell Us?

n The picture of adult literacy in the U.S. is one of polarization. Among Western industrialized nations, we rank near the top in the percentage of highly literate adults (21%) but also near the top in the proportion who are functionally illiterate (also 21%).
n Public debate about teacher qualifications has focused mainly on math and science, but data reveal that the humanities fields suffer an even more glaring dearth of well-prepared teachers. In 2000, the percentage of middle (29%) and high school (37.5%) students taught by a highly qualified history teacher was lower than for any other major subject area. The definition of “highly qualified” is a teacher who has certification and a post-secondary degree in the subject they teach.
n Humanities faculty are the most poorly paid. They also have a higher proportion of part-time, non-tenured positions compared to their counterparts in the sciences and engineering. But almost half of humanities faculty indicate that they are “very satisfied” with their jobs overall.
n Since the early 1970s, the number of Americans who support the banning of books from the public library because they espouse atheism, extreme militarism, communism, or homosexuality decreased by at least 11 percentage points, although still from 26% to 34% of the public would support banning some type of book. In the case of books advocating homosexuality, the decline was a particularly significant 20 percentage points.
n Recent federal legislation identifies certain languages as “critical need languages” (Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Bengali, Turkish, and Uzbek, among others), but the data show these languages are rarely studied in colleges and universities. At the same time, there has been a substantial increase in the number of students studying Chinese.
n Charitable giving to arts and cultural organizations grew between the mid-1990s and early 2000s before leveling off. But little of public or private sector funding for the humanities goes to academic research. This trend undermines both academia and the public since public institutions rely on humanities scholars to provide much of the knowledge on which these activities are based.
n The number of American adults who read at least one book in the previous 12 months decreased from 61% to 57% in the decade between the early 1990s and the early 2000s. The greatest rate of decline (approximately 15%) occurred among 18-to-24-year-olds.

For more information about the Humanities Indicators, please see the national Web site at: