Academic rankings can be subjective, divisive and misleading; but an index of geographical range is perhaps more reliable than the various indices of academic quality. (Which, admittedly, we made use of when we drew up the list of ‘leading’ universities for our sample.) The table below ranks all 57 history departments we examined. Each institution receives a score from 0 to 1 based on the extent of wider-world research interest among its staff: 1.0 means that every department member works on the wider world; 0.01 means that just 1% of that department is working in these areas. Excepting the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, which is exclusively dedicated to the wider world, the most wide-ranging departments have an average in the .300s, rather like the best hitters in baseball. But more than 60% of the departments we surveyed missed even the .300 threshold.
If we distributed historians on the basis of population, the wider-world average would be 0.830.
Our data was compiled in the spring and summer of 2011, and offers a snapshot of the profession at the end of the 2010/11 academic year.
Rankings reduce complex human, intellectual, and institutional realities into a single-file line. None are perfect, and ours have particular weaknesses. These are a snapshot, likely to have changed even in the last year. Since 2010-11, the authors' two home departments have made significant jumps, in opposite directions. We also have no desire to denigrate the work of our (many) colleagues who research western history—as we do ourselves—and we appreciate that the western categories conceal a variety of subjects and approaches, many fruitful, many innovative. Some do the most traditional, regionally bound, monocultural history—and do it very well. Others work on indigenous history, or study immigrant communities, working with sources in immigrant languages. In our survey, 27% of Americanists, 22% of historians of Britain, and 19% of Canadianists were doing research with a substantial component crossing beyond the national boundary. (These innovators, along with world historians in general, may inadvertently distract from the lack of historians with deep training in the wider world.) Nor do we desire to dismiss the work of our (few) colleagues who research wider-world history at departments where they form distressingly small minorities. The dismal (eighth from the bottom) ranking Cambridge achieves here should not detract from the fact that in terms of numbers (not percentages) of historians in a faculty, they would look quite global (seventh from the top), and individually are some of our best historians of the wider world.
A particular factor that complicates our findings is that historians of the wider world are sometimes employed by universities in departments other than history, usually in area studies. As this is perhaps a typically British pattern, we might consider as a case study the University of Liverpool, known for the strength of its program in Latin America. In addition to History, Liverpool has a School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies that explicitly "focuses on Europe and its former colonial possessions in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, and on North, Central and South America." Although including this School's historians in our study would gain Liverpool a half dozen wider-world historians (or more literary "historians of the book"), this also brings in from area studies (the School, and the Institute of Irish Studies) twice as many historians of Europe. The bottom line is that Liverpool's history department is 14% wider world, and including even those historians (or history-minded literary specialists) in other departments increases this to about 21% -- only impressive because the initial figure was so low. Looking further afield to historically-minded scholars with degrees and appointments in philosophy, music, architecture, economics, and so on, would probably shift our overall picture back towards the west.
In the long hours of data collection we came to love the easily classified historian of Britons doing British things in Britain, and dreaded the troublemakers of the sort who studied images of the Ottoman Empire in the heads of Canadians missionizing Timbuktu. We took a broad view of the world/international and wider-world categories, and included historians among Africanists and Asianists and Latin Americanists those who apparently read no indigenous language, or even no language beyond English. The overall results were so stark that inadvertent miscategorizations can be no more than a sliver of the explanation. We all look bad—except for London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, which, ironically, given the geographical restrictions in its mandate, comes far closer than any other department to representing population patterns.