Thursday, August 11, 2005
I’m proud to work at a university that values undergraduate research in the arts and humanities. At most universities, when research opportunities arise for students they are typically in the sciences. Because of this, many of us don’t know what undergraduate research in the humanities looks like. This is a shame because research in the arts and humanities has different goals, different outcomes, places different demands on students, and offers different types of opportunities for those who undertake and witness it. As our society becomes increasingly oriented to the awesome power of the sciences it becomes more important, not less, to encourage research in the humanities amongst our students.
So what does research in the arts and humanities offer?
This question is at once easy to answer and hard to convey the full importance of. For me, original research changes lives. The best research touches us, even draws us into a new ways of inhabiting our world, and makes the world and us larger. In the theme of this year’s summer institute, original research can take a world that has become commonplace and make it strangely new again. It does this by supplying novel explanatory frameworks. It does this by pointing to new and special occurrences that we might not have noticed. And it can do this by revealing new patterns in how the world itself is organized. Once it does this, however, an amazing thing occurs. The research opens up new concepts, territories, and spaces for explorations. If I can steal a theme from Comparative History of Ideas student Jennifer Stuller’s presentation, if magic is creating something from nothing, then what you have witnessed today is a little bit of magic.
The magic of research in the arts and humanities focuses the big issues of life and make them perceivable, even personal. In doing so, it transforms those who are willing and able to be touched by it.