How does gender diversity shape historical research?

Nilsen: There is a “chicken and egg” problem. What came first, the openness of the disciplines to new questions or the increasing participation of underrepresented groups in these disciplines? Presumably the relationship is mutual, but the direction of causality is difficult to establish even in large-scale, multi-year studies like ours.

Our study shows a clear connection between researcher demographics and the questions raised in historical research. Our results suggest that increased diversity can broaden the repertoire of perspectives, values, and issues at play in academic fields. I hope there is much more research on this important question in the future.

Schiebinger: Our work has three limitations and ethical concerns. First, current naming algorithm tools do not provide categories beyond the binary “female” or “male”. Second, we did not find satisfactory tools to classify authors’ ethnicity. This led to our third limitation – we couldn’t analyze how gender, ethnicity, and other social categories might interact. For example, we failed to see the distinctive contributions of black women, of which there are many, including the development of the concept of intersectionality even.

The categories of race and gender are currently undergoing massive conceptual change and this work has the potential to support social change and interventions. For example, the National Institutes of Health recently commissioned the National Academies of Sciences to develop new gender categories for medical records, birth certificates, and the like. This in turn will create new datasets for the kind of social analysis that we have demonstrated in our analysis of the story. Our ultimate goal is to collaborate across social, mind, and artificial intelligence to develop robust tools for intersectional approaches to gender, race, and ethnicity in knowledge production. How does gender diversity shape historical research?

Dais Johnston

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