2 years ago
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What Is Research Like in the Humanities? Part 1
I feel like most people would say they have a pretty good idea what research is like in the science and technology fields. We visualize the different types of experimentation and scientifically-conducted studies by thinking of beakers and test tubes, or monitors and observation rooms. But how is research conducted in the humanities? Is it just people sitting by themselves reading books in the library or writing in their offices? Well, there is certainly some of that involved, and it is very hard work even though it is also enjoyable (it's lovely to be surrounded by interesting reading material!). However, that is not all there is to humanities research. In my last post for my collection "The Humanities in Focus," I shared some insights into what the humanities are and why they are vital (http://www.vingle.net/posts/592947). Over the next couple of posts I'd like to share, again with the help of the Stanford Humanities Center, what research is like in the humanities. According to the SHC website (link attached), humanities research is about: "Examining the Past to Understand the Future Humanities research often involves an individual professor researching in a library in order to write a book. The books that result from this study are part of an ongoing dialogue about the meaning and possibilities of human existence that reaches back to ancient times and looks forward to our common future." This is the part that you have probably pictured before. Especially for scholars who focus on historical topics (not everyone does), research in archives and special library collections is crucial. You should really check out some the amazing treasures collected in your local university library! I've seen the handwritten journals of famous authors, the manuscripts of some of my favorite books, original copies of early underground comics, a World War II soldier's emergency kit, nuclear preparation manuals and even an x-ray of Hitler's skull (that was very weird, but amazing that it exists and they have it). Researching our shared past is a way for scholars and policy makers to understand and help us understand how to best forge our society's path into the future more effectively and with greater living conditions and human understanding. Here's another point on humanities research by the SHC: "Scholar Collaboration However, humanities research also draws from other sources and often requires alternative methods of investigation. A research project may involve several professors from different universities sharing information in an on-line forum. A professor may collaborate with a colleague in another area of study to gain alternative perspectives on a topic. A scholar might publish research in-progress in an on-line journal to solicit feedback from others in her field. Some professors develop projects with the classroom in mind and engage their students in research projects. Other projects require the gathering of original information by doing fieldwork which could entail interviewing people, unearthing artifacts or documenting the history behind an archive of photographs." Did you know humanities scholars do field work and collaborate with others? These are my favorite aspects of humanities research! I have worked closely with colleagues on a lot of fun collaborations, as well as with people not in academia. I know colleagues who have teamed up with athletes for projects, like boxers, others who have collaborated with neuroscientists, and others who have set up conferences with start-up entrepreneurs and members of the tech community. For some of my field work I've gone to see amazing creations at Maker Faire, mingled with steampunks and interacted with the colorful communities at other fan conventions. There are so many possibilities! I hope you're enjoying learning more about what the humanities are all about. There's plenty more to come, so follow my collection "The Humanities in Focus"! You can find it here: http://www.vingle.net/collections/1575046
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When I have done research for writing, I find myself sure int he library, but often outside and doing fieldwork outside of the library, immersing myself in the life of others. As a writer I find that I'm sometimes different from other fields, in that I find myself engaging and trying all the activities, not just watching it happen. Research isn't boring at all!
@greggr, I think becoming immersed in the lives of others is so important! I am a big proponent of the idea that scholars should not get isolated but rather keep in close touch with the pulse of their environment and the contemporary society that surrounds them. Relevance is key to finding the best ways to do and present research that can add to and interest others who are not in academic circles.
Also, you can't write about other humans without making sure you are among them once in a while! Haha.