It is well known that historical scholarship is subject to trends, even fashions, as scholars shift their focus among different periods, subjects, and regions. We seek to identify and measure such patterns in one particular field of inquiry, the history of U.S. foreign relations. We do this by analyzing two data sources:
The text corpus of Diplomatic History, the field's flagship journal, from 1977 to present; and
Metadata on volumes of the Foreign Relations of the United States, its most commonly-cited primary source and the official record published by the U.S. State Department.
Using a combination of citation analysis and other text mining techniques, we explore hypotheses explaining these trends, including the impact of current events and the availability of declassified sources. Our findings suggest a connection between the relative decline in the declassification of once-secret records and the changing landscape of knowledge production about American diplomatic history. They also show that a data-driven survey of the literature — a mode of analysis widely known as “distant reading” — can shed a different kind of light on the “state of the field,” revealing subtle continuities and changes in scholarly focus.