Daniel W. Drezner

Can I interest you in an international studies encyclopedia?

Can I interest you in an international studies encyclopedia?

The International Studies Association (ISA) has just released the online version of the International Studies Encyclopedia (ISE), an outgrowth of the ISA Compendium project.  The ISE is, apparently, "the most comprehensive reference work of its kind for the fields of international studies and international relations."  ISA members have free access to it.  The rest of the world will have to gawk and stare, or, perhaps, join ISA

There are a lot of international relations encyclopedias, and to be blunt, most of them are a  bit dodgy.  What’s in this encyclopedia?  Why is this one different from all other encyclopedias before it? 

Robert A. Denemark, the general editor, offered this explanation for the what and the why: 

Over 400 issues of scholarly interest are reviewed in this Compendium Project, which consists of both hardback and online versions. The review essays are designed to serve bright undergraduates with a thirst for knowledge, graduate students charged with learning huge amounts of material in a short time, more senior colleagues who want to introduce new subjects to their students or explore questions outside their traditional areas of expertise, or other professionals who want to see what academics have been up to. The average length of these review essays is about 10,000 words. Authors were asked to provide a long-term sense of a given topic’s intellectual and social context. The review essays in this project should begin with the earliest treatments, and include as comprehensive a consideration as possible. We were looking for wide coverage, and not simply the historical roots of recent trends. Review essays also cover the most current literature….

The scholarly literature has exploded. Not so long ago it was easy to stay current or learn about new areas of scholarship. If you read the latest monograph or the last few articles in an issue area, reviewed the bibliographic material, and read a few of the important published works suggested, you would become conversant. That is no longer the case. The scholarly explosion, especially in the number of journals, has made it impossible to even find all the relevant work, much less become familiar with it. Graduate syllabi have become (necessarily) narrower, making it hard for new scholars to become familiar with efforts that are even just a few decades old. When a graduate student came to see me about a “new” idea that I vaguely recall being considered in the journals in the 1970s I was happy to provide several citations. The student was embarrassed by an apparent lack of due diligence, and I was left to wonder how contemporary graduate studies might inform bright young scholars of what they need to know in the context of rapidly growing material (and declining resources for pursuing graduate work that result in a push to spend less and less time with more and more literature). How can we avoid an inevitable narrowing of our vision, and an increased tendency to reinvent the wheel?

FP clearly has the realist entries covered:  Stephen Walt wrote the entry on realism and security, while your humble blogger drafted the entry on mercantilist and realist perspectives on the global political economy

OK, by this point in the post, I’m pretty sure I’ve driven away all casual readers of the blog.  So, let’s get to the fun part! 

Beyond the geek thrill of rooting around in the myriad entries, the release of the ISE offers us IR types another opportunity to measure the coin of the academic realm — the influence of particular international relations scholars.  Presumably, the more wide-ranging a scholar’s work, the more entries that should cite that scholar (either because the scholar wrote one thing that got cited by everyone or wrote on myriad different topics)..  Therefore, as an exercise, I searched on the names of the twenty scholars "whose work has had the greatest influence on the field of IR in the past 20 years," according to the 2008 William and Mary Teaching and Research in International Politics (TRIP) survey.

The result?  It’s Bob Keohane’s world — we just live in it. 

Keohane was cited in over 100 encyclopedia entries, the only person who cracked triple digits.  Only three other IR scholars were featured in over 70 entries — Kenneth Waltz, James Rosenau, and Stephen D. Krasner.  The cursed young Jedi eminent scholar-practitioner Joseph Nye rounds out the top five. 

Three other interesting facts emerge from this exercise: 

1)  You can’t say that feminist scholatship was neglected or marginalized in this encyclopedia — both J. Ann Tickner and Cynthia Enloe were cited in more entries than either Robert Jervis or John Mearsheimer;

2)  Despite Denemark’s hope that the entries would emphasize historical antecedents, it’s far from clear whether that injunction held up.   For example, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Peter Katzenstein are great IR scholars, but I’m not entirely sure if either of them should appear in more entries than Thucydides, Machiavelli, or Sun Tzu.    

3)  To pre-empt the commenters:  looking strictly at Foreign Policy bloggers, I must report that Steve Walt absolutely crushed me, appearing in more than twice as many entries as your humbled-yet-again blogger. 

ISA members are encouraged to take a look at the encyclopedia and report back their own interesting findings.