Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 695–751 | Cite as

Quantitative Perspectives on Fifty Years of the Journal of the History of Biology

  • B. R. Erick Peirson
  • Erin Bottino
  • Julia L. Damerow
  • Manfred D. Laubichler
Original Research


Journal of the History of Biology provides a fifty-year long record for examining the evolution of the history of biology as a scholarly discipline. In this paper, we present a new dataset and preliminary quantitative analysis of the thematic content of JHB from the perspectives of geography, organisms, and thematic fields. The geographic diversity of authors whose work appears in JHB has increased steadily since 1968, but the geographic coverage of the content of JHB articles remains strongly lopsided toward the United States, United Kingdom, and western Europe and has diversified much less dramatically over time. The taxonomic diversity of organisms discussed in JHB increased steadily between 1968 and the late 1990s but declined in later years, mirroring broader patterns of diversification previously reported in the biomedical research literature. Finally, we used a combination of topic modeling and nonlinear dimensionality reduction techniques to develop a model of multi-article fields within JHB. We found evidence for directional changes in the representation of fields on multiple scales. The diversity of JHB with regard to the representation of thematic fields has increased overall, with most of that diversification occurring in recent years. Drawing on the dataset generated in the course of this analysis, as well as web services in the emerging digital history and philosophy of science ecosystem, we have developed an interactive web platform for exploring the content of JHB, and we provide a brief overview of the platform in this article. As a whole, the data and analyses presented here provide a starting-place for further critical reflection on the evolution of the history of biology over the past half-century.


Computational HPS Computational humanities Digital HPS Topic modeling Data visualization 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex SystemsArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.arXiv, Cornell University LibraryCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  3. 3.Santa Fe InstituteSanta FeUSA
  4. 4.Marine Biological LaboratoryWoods HoleUSA

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