Who’s Your Grand-Advisor? Crowdsourcing an IR lineage map

11 February 2011, 0321 EST

There are a series of jokes floating around academia about “academic relatives,” most recently this little bit of brilliant whimsy from Jorge Cham’s Piled Higher and Deeper entitled “Your Academic Genealogy.” Funny, yes, but there’s also something potentially important here about the lineages of academic thought, so I did a little digging and thus far have been completely unable to locate something that I would have thought that someone would have already assembled: an online searchable database that mapped adviser-advisee relationships in IR. So far as I know, there is no such thing. Not yet.

I think that a map like this would be a very useful tool for all kinds of research on the sociology of the field, besides all the ways it would serve as fodder for intriguing hallway and bar conversations at conferences (“I never knew that X was your grand-adviser; did you ever meet her? What was she like?”) It would also be a tool for a certain amount of reflexive self-discovery; I recently learned that my grand-adviser was a labor historian named Henry Pelling, and that my PhD adviser Ira Katznelson’s undergraduate thesis was supervised by none other than the brilliant American historian Richard Hofstadter (which makes Hofstadter what, exactly — a “grand-influence” on me? We may need a whole new vocabulary for this map). I can think of dozens of interesting questions one might productively ask if this data were available to help produce answers.

So I have two questions for the community at large. First of all, I would bet money that there is software out there that could be easily configured to run such a map, something people could easily visit and update — something wikified, but still robust. Maybe existing genealogy software that could be modified for this purpose? I don’t know and haven’t done any digging, but I wanted to throw the question out there and see what tools people might recommend.

Second, I want to keep this simple, so I am thinking of only asking people maybe three things: who was your PhD adviser, which institution granted your PhD, and (to capture “grand-influences” and other such people) which 2-3 contemporaries other than your formal adviser would you cite as important intellectual influences. [The phrasing of that last one is a little awkward, but what I mean is “don’t mention classic or canonical authors, mention people who were actually productive during your lifetime but are members of a previous academic generation.” For example, using myself: my PhD adviser was Ira Katznelson, my PhD is from Columbia, other contemporary influences would have to be Charles Tilly, Hayward Alker, and John Shotter. What that says about me I am not entirely sure, but the first step in finding out what it says is probably to get a more comprehensive database assembled.] If there is a good case to be made for collecting other bits of information, please make it, but please keep in mind that I want this to be a simple and nonthreatening process of data collection so I do not want to overload people.

The floor is open. I would be very happy to discover that this has already been done, but barring that, I would love input on what tool to use in producing this map — a map that I would of course want to be publicly searchable and collectively editable.