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How is humanities research conducted?

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.

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.

An Interpretive Approach to Research

A hallmark of humanistic study is that research is approached differently than in the natural and social sciences, where data and hard evidence are required to draw conclusions. Because the human experience cannot be adequately captured by facts and figures alone, humanities research employs methods that are historical, interpretive and analytical in nature.

Professors who engage in humanities research are often posing questions about common assumptions, uncovering new meanings in artistic works, or finding new ways to understand cultural interactions. This type of inquiry can produce clearer pictures of the past, uncover the many insights that we can draw from our forbears, and in turn, help us better to prepare for the future.

Visit our Centers page for a full list of Humanities Research Centers

Humanities Research - Raising Questions

Professors in the humanities are often associated with their teaching, which is an important part of their work; but they also conduct research and publish their findings in academic journals and books.

Whether written for a small academic community or for a broad public audience, humanities research maintains the common purpose of contributing to an on-going dialogue in an area of study. Unlike scientists, humanists are interested in raising questions, rather then providing absolute answers.

Find out more about Stanford's Humanities Faculty in the Experts Bureau

Not Just for Professors

Many people who study the humanities are professors at colleges or universities, but they are also comprised of students, independent scholars, authors and artists. At Stanford, there are over 200 professors working in the 15 departments of the humanities cluster, and many more working in other departments on humanistically-oriented projects.

Many of the Stanford humanities faculty are of national and international renown, and include Pulitzer Prize Winners, MacArthur Fellows, and numerous members of national scholarly academies.