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  News & Views

JBHE’s Annual Citation Rankings of Black Scholars in the Social Sciences and the Humanities

For the fifteenth consecutive year, JBHE publishes its citation rankings of black scholars in the social sciences. In each of our previous surveys, the black scholar with the highest citation count in social science journals was Harvard University Professor William Julius Wilson. But this year in citation counts, David R. Williams of the Harvard School of Public Health is the new leader.

In the humanities rankings, Paul Gilroy is the most cited scholar for the fourth time in five years. In each of the past two years Professor Gilroy has led by a large margin.

The well-established though controversial practice of citation analysis is based on the premise that it is possible to measure the impact of a scholar, an academic department, or even an entire university by the number of times scholarly research papers are cited by academic peers. In this way, proponents of citation analysis contend, it is possible to rank the world’s physicists, chemists, or even black studies scholars by the number of citations their works generate in the research papers of their academic peers.

In our current “publish or perish” academic world, the citation-analysis technique, although not as positively regarded as it was several years ago, is still used by deans and department heads as a tool to help them make decisions on academic promotions, compensation changes, and tenure votes.

Also, academic institutions and departments commonly broadcast favorable citation rankings of their faculties in appeals for alumni gifts and foundation grants.


After 14 Years, a New Citation Count Leader

As we have done since 1993, JBHE recently conducted a database search of Thomson Scientific’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Index for the citation counts of dozens of black scholars in this discipline. In each of the past 14 surveys JBHE conducted on black scholars in the social sciences, we determined that the leader in rankings was Professor William Julius Wilson, the sociologist formerly at the University of Chicago who now is University Professor at Harvard University. This year Professor Wilson’s citation count increased from 281 citations in academic journals in 2007 to 322 in 2008. Yet this increase was not enough to keep Professor Wilson in first place.

David R. Williams, former Harold W. Cruse Collegiate Professor of Sociology and a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan and now Norman Professor of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, ranked just behind Professor Wilson in each of the past four years. But in 2008 Professor Williams had 398 citations, 76 more than Dr. Wilson.

David Williams has conducted groundbreaking research on the determining factors producing racial disparities in healthcare. With racial disparities in healthcare becoming a major social issue, the scholarly work of Professor Williams has become widely cited in academic journals.

Claude M. Steele, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, finished third this year with 304 citations. Professor Steele continues to receive widespread notice for his work on so-called stereotype vulnerability confronting black students when they take standardized tests.

Elijah Anderson, a professor of sociology formerly at the University of Pennsylvania and now at Yale, holds the fourth spot in our rankings, up one position from last year’s rankings. Professor Anderson continues to receive citations for his critically acclaimed 1999 book, Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral of Life of the Inner City, as well as for his book, A Place on the Corner: A Study of Black Street Corner Men. An updated second edition of this work was published in 2004.

Once again, this year the highest-ranking black woman in the social sciences citation index was Vonnie McLoyd, professor of development psychology at the University of Michigan. She had 200 citations in 2008, which placed her in fifth position overall. Professor McLoyd had 37 more citations in 2008 than the previous year. Her research focuses on the impact of economic hardship on family processes, children’s mental health, and beliefs about personal efficacy.

Paul Gilroy, formerly of Yale University, now holds the Anthony Giddens Professorship in Social Theory at the London School of Economics. He placed sixth overall in our social sciences citation count. Professor Gilroy had 141 citations, down two from a year ago.

Three other black scholars received 100 or more citations in the social sciences. They are:

 • Lawrence Bobo, the noted sociologist who a few years ago left Harvard University for Stanford University and has now returned to Harvard. Professor Bobo ranked seventh in this year’s survey with 140 citations, two fewer than a year ago.

• Kimberle Crenshaw, a noted scholar of critical race theory, who is a professor of law at both UCLA and Columbia University. She has published a large number of law review articles.

• Caroline M. Hoxby, an economist who recently left Harvard for Stanford University. Professor Hoxby has published on a wide variety of issues including school choice and standardized testing.


Most Cited Black Scholars in the Humanities

But what about black scholars in the arts and humanities? Academic journals play a less important role in the humanities in comparison to the natural sciences or even the social sciences. There are not a large number of journals in which humanities issues are routinely debated. Therefore, the number of citations given to a particular scholar in the humanities — even some of the most highly respected novelists, poets, and playwrights — are likely to be far below the number of citations assigned to a scientist who publishes just one important paper in a scientific journal.

In JBHE’s first four annual surveys of citations in the arts and humanities (1998-2001), the highly prolific and influential black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University led our rankings. In 2002 Paul Gilroy, who was then at Yale University, was the leader in the citation count in the humanities. Toni Morrison, the Nobel laureate and Princeton University professor, led the rankings in 2003. In 2004 these three scholars were once again at the head of the rankings. Professor Gilroy held the top spot with 112 citations, followed closely by Professor Gates.

In 2005 Professor Gates narrowly edged out Professor Gilroy with Professor Morrison not far behind. In 2006, 2007, and again this year Professor Gilroy is ranked first. He had 156 citations in humanities journals in 2008, an increase of 16 from 2007. Unlike previous years when Professors Gates, Morrison, and Gilroy ran neck and neck, this year Professor Gilroy led the rankings by a huge margin.

Toni Morrison, who is now professor emerita at Princeton, finished in second place with 110 citations, up from 85 a year ago. Professor Gates finished in third place this year with 88 citations in humanities journals.

Poet bell hooks had 78 citations in humanities journals in 2008, up 17 from a year ago. This puts her in fourth place in our survey, two positions higher than last year.
Princeton University philosopher K. Anthony Appiah held the fifth position, up from seventh a year ago. Professor Appiah had 65 citations in 2008, up from 54 in last year’s survey.

Paule Marshall, New York University professor and author of Brown Girl, Brownstones and many other books, dropped from third place last year to sixth place in this year’s survey. Her citation count dropped from 79 in 2007 to 53 this year.

Also among the most highly cited black scholars in the humanities are Princeton’s Cornel West; Danielle Allen, former University of Chicago scholar, now at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey; and novelist Alice Walker.