Can We Measure Historiographical Turns?

I’m busy working on a second draft of my article, “The NACBS at 60: British Studies in North America 1900-2010,” which should be complete in the next few days thanks to the wonderful suggestions from my British Studies colleagues around the world.  In the process, I’ve been focused on tracing some of the changes that took place within the pages of the Journal of British Studies/Albion over the past 50 years.  Two of the things that I’m interested in are historiographical and methodological shifts – what we often call “turns.”  There are many ways to get at this information, and lots of good models.[i]  I decided that I would run an experiment, comparing the Journal of British Studies/Albion with the Historical Journal.  I chose the Historical Journal because much of its coverage overlaps with that of JBS/Albion.  And, it turns out that the Historical Journal is the publication that has historically cited JBS/Albion most often.  Furthermore, Mark Goldie’s article on the history of Historical Journal provided me with excellent comparative data.


My method was to choose a few scholars who are often cited by scholars of Britain as key figures in one historiographical turn or another.  I chose scholars whose careers I could trace from roughly the 1960s or early 1970s to the present.  E.P. Thompson represents “history from below” for example.  Since he had an immediate impact on scholarship during the 1960s, the numbers of citations to his work in JBS/Albion or Historical Journal might represent how soon the journal’s editorial board responded to historiographical or methodological changes.  In other words, citations might be a way of getting at the tenor of the journals – how quickly scholarly methodology changed, how likely a journal was to be critical of “history from below,” or whether the journal rejected a “turn” in favor of alternative theories or methodologies.


For my sample, I chose Lewis Namier, E.P. Thompson, J.G.A. Pocock, Michel Foucault, and Martha Vicinus as representative authors.  I counted the numbers of articles (not book reviews or review essays) which cited their work by decade in JBS/Albion and Historical Journal (HJ).  I then divided that number by the total number of articles and multiplied by 100 to figure out the percentage of articles which cited an author over the course of a decade.  The results were interesting.  Citations of Lewis Namier’s work plummeted in JBS/Albion in the 1970s, while citations in HJ remained steady.  Meanwhile, both journals saw a steady but noticeable rise in citations of E.P. Thompson from the 1970s through the 1990s followed by a drop-off in the first decade of this century. J.G.A. Pocock, has continued to dominate the pages of JBS/Albion and HJ over the past two decades, but his work has been cited much more in HJ.  I was expecting to see more citations of Michel Foucault, and much earlier.  However, there was a long delay in his impact on these two journals, if impact is measured by citations.  That said, it seems that during the first decade of the 2000s, his stock was on the rise in HJ, with a jump in citations.  Martha Vicinus’s work shows a steady rise in citations since the 1980s, but she seems to have a much higher profile in JBS/Albion than in HJ.


I will leave the analysis of this data to my article, but I thought that readers might be interested in seeing some of the data.  I welcome any suggestions or comments.



Author Citations in JBS/Albion and HJ

Percentage of Articles in JBS/Albion and Historical Journal That Cite Scholars
Lewis Namier E.P. Thompson Martha Vicinus J.G.A. Pocock Michel Foucault
JBS/Albion HJ JBS/Albion HJ JBS/Albion HJ JBS/Albion HJ JBS/Albion HJ
1960s 11.80 4.26 1.24 2.13 0.00 0.00 1.86 3.55 0.00 0.00
1970s 2.34 3.49 3.96 4.76 0.72 0.00 1.26 2.22 0.18 0.00
1980s 3.65 3.81 7.53 5.88 0.91 0.35 4.57 10.03 0.68 1.04
1990s 1.96 2.98 8.04 10.60 1.74 0.66 6.09 11.92 1.96 2.32
2000s 0.21 2.29 6.24 8.29 2.91 0.86 7.69 13.43 4.37 6.00

[i] See, for example, Mark Goldie, “Fifty Years of the Historical Journal,” The Historical Journal 51, no. 04 (2008): 821–855; Miles Taylor, “The Beginnings of Modern British Social History?,” History Workshop Journal, no. 43 (April 1, 1997): 155–176; Michael Bentley, Modernizing England’s Past: English Historiography in the Age of Modernism, 1870-1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

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