Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A note about subfields

A number of commenters on this post have asked about how job placement looks in terms of literature vs. linguistics. It’s a thorny question; why do we count Germanic linguistics Ph.D.s from Wisconsin and Berkeley, but not Cornell, since they take their Ph.D.s in the linguistic department? We have to draw the line somewhere, however, and departmental boundaries help out in a number of ways, for example by distinguishing comp lit dissertations on German topics from dissertations completed within German departments.

Differentiating subfields is also a problem. I’ve used the following categories, which are certainly open to debate. Over half the dissertations fall into the “20th century” category, but it’s very difficult in practice to split many of those dissertations into finer subcategories; a lot of dissertation treat both Weimar and the Nazi period, or both post-War and DDR, or both DDR and post-Wende.
  • medieval (up to ca. 1450)
  • early modern (1450-1700)
  • 18th c. (anything before Romanticism)
  • 18-19th c. (i.e. Romanticism)
  • 19th. c. (post-Romanticism, but pre-20th c.)
  • 19-20th c. (late 19th c. up to ca. 1914)
  • 20th c. (ca. 1914 to the present: prewar, postwar, post-Wende, it’s all there)
  • multi-period (spanning multiple periods, not with just a token chapter on another period)
  • historical linguistics (not merely diachronic, but specifically addressing older periods)
  • linguistics (including diachronic treatments of modern linguistics)
  • second language acquisition
  • other (unclassifiable or unknown)
In the table below, I’ve placed the categories, how many dissertations since 2007 each category includes and what percentage of the total, how many TT placements have been made from each category, the percentage of all placements, and the placement rate per category.

What does this tell us? Twentieth century is by far the largest subfield, but its placements are actually a smaller fraction of the total than its dissertations are, giving it a modest placement rate. Romanticism is a smaller field and medieval literature a very small field, but they have the highest placement rates of all subfields, ahead of even SLA. Eighteenth-century topics before Romanticism, nineteenth-century topics after Romanticism, and the early modern period fare poorly: No early modernist has been hired into a tenure-track job in German Studies since at least 2006. Contemporary linguists and second language acquisition specialists have placement rates broadly in line with the field as a whole, but the small field of historical linguistics has done poorly lately, with only one placement. Medieval literature, Romanticism, and SLA are the only subfields whose percentage of hires is higher than the percentage of dissertations, that is, the only “overperforming” subfields.


  1. This is indeed very interesting. Is it possible to separate out film, too? I would be interested to see how film dissertation placements compare to 20th century lit. placements, and it certainly feels like a subfield to me.

  2. Unfortunately, I didn't make note of film dissertations. Sorry! Maybe in a future version, I'll include subfields with the dissertations and let people suggest corrections or new categories.