May 24, 2012

Becoming a historian to cut, cut, cut…

When talking to an interviewee the other night about her "crooked line" of becoming a humanities scholar, I remembered historian Geoff Eley writing about his academic profession:

"Particularly if we examine the sources for our enthusiasm and the webs of early curiosity - the idiosyncratic mixtures of deliberation, desire, external influences, and pure serendipity that first move most of us into becoming historians - the unschooled or naive quality of our sense of the past ought to become extremely clear. [...]

Of course, there are many reasons for wanting to study history. After all, history's pleasures are many-sided. They include the pleasures of discovery and collecting, of exhaustiveness and pursuit, of the exotic and the unfamiliar, of serendipity, and - last but not least - of mastery. History is also a site of difference; in the loose sense of the term, it offers contexts for deconstruction. History is where we go for defamiliarizing our ideas and assumptions; it is our laboratory, where we question the sufficiencies of apparently coherent and unified accounts of the world, and where the ever-seductive unities of contemporary social and political discourse may also be named, de-authorized, and upset. [...]

Part of that condition is also making the world more changeable, [...] at least to show how the changeablity of the world might be thought or imagined. [...] It can bring into focus the possible horizons of a different way."1

Does it need more to explain the sheer necessity of cuts to the humanities to sustain the grand narrative of austerity and globalised late capitalism?


1 Geoff Eley, 2006. A Crooked Line: From Cultural History to the History of Society. University of Michigan Press, pp. 8-10

April 17, 2012

Hearing in the academy

We have begun our interviews! Over the last few weeks we have been interviewing academics in different parts of the U.K. and in the U.S. We have many more interviews scheduled from now until our cut-off date which is May 15th. We have also been deepening the theoretical basis of our project: more to come on that later. For this post I would like to report on a surprising theme that has arisen from the interviews that I have conducted so far. Our methodology requires us to enter each interview with a mind that is completely open to whatever comes up, consequently, along with themes that one might expect to arise from interviewing academics working in the humanities, we will also be uncovering interesting ideas that don’t receive much discussion in the academy.

One of the academics that I interviewed spoke about how much he enjoys talking about and listening to ideas. He loves reading groups and discussions with friends. His desire to talk about and hear others talk about ideas was one of the more powerful motivations for him to work in the humanities. In fact, he’d rather talk and listen about ideas than write about them.

Another one of the interviewees said that one of the most potent factors that attracted him to his field, Shakespeare theatre studies, was the sound of the plays in the actor’s voice and in his own voice. Even when, as a young teenager, he didn’t know what the words meant, he loved hearing them.

Another one of my interviewees was attracted to oral folk tales early on in her life and now, as a professor, teaches them. One of the features of oral tales that motivates her study of them is the relationship between their fleeting nature as site and time specific aural events and their place in memory.

While the act of hearing plays a different role in the history of each of these academic's choice of field, I was surprised at the presence of aurality in each case. And it seems to me that hearing is rarely foregrounded in academia which typically focuses more on reading and writing. Thinking on this issue has caused a number of questions to arise in my mind:

*How does how a lecture sounds affect its power to educate and inspire?

*How does reading texts out loud affect their power to educate and inspire? Is reading out loud as powerful for non-fiction texts or novels as it is for dramatic poetry?

*What are the effects of listening to one’s own texts read out loud, either in the editing process or afterwards as a performance of it (conference, etc)?

*What value is there in informal discussions about academics, such as pub discussions, around the dinner table talks, street talks and so forth?

*Is there any value to performing lessons – focusing on the lesson as a spectacle (aural and visual) rather than simply as a transmission of information?

*What role does the sounds/voices/words that kids hear as they are growing up play in their choice of study, career and lifestyle?

*Can music play a role in education/teaching?

*If hearing is a potent force in education, what consequences does this have for the academy as it stands today?

I invite readers of this blog to comment on the questions above or to add questions of their own in the theme of hearing and aurality in the academy

March 27, 2012

Maria Hetzer

maria.pngI am a second-year PhD student in the School of Theatre and Performance Studies and the Department of German Studies. My practice-based research project centers on the performance of embodied memory and identity. Interrogating everyday body practices in times of severe collective crisis, it uses the experiences of women from the GDR after the fall of the Berlin wall. The collected interview material is interrogated and extended through performance research in a studio environment. British performers experiment on the possibility of translating crisis experience across time and space.

Our HRC project approaches diverse "ways of knowing”. It also aims to disseminate research findings in less conventional ways. Therefore, one of my tasks is to assist in finding a unique way of performing our research data and analysis. The performance event will draw on the interview material, as well as the spatial and interdisciplinary analysis carried out. Last but not least, the performance emphasises the notion of the connection between research and researcher as an everyday experience deeply rooted in ethics and life decision-making.

(More info on my person here:

March 24, 2012

Jonathan Durham

Jonathan Durham

I am a second-year PhD student in the Department of French Studies, and specialise in the Early Modern period. My thesis looks at French women playwrights from the 17th and 18th centuries, and argues for their inclusion in the canon, by demonstrating their innovation and influence on the genre, in relation to the aesthetic and dramaturgic rules of the period, and also their intertextual relationship with male playwrights such as Molière, Racine, and Corneille. The methodology is necessarily multidisciplinary, by combining methods from French Studies and Theatre Studies.

As such, I will be leading the third phase of the Scholars’ Group project, which will be based on interdisciplinarity. This will bring together the findings from the interviews in the form of transcriptions, and Kate Scarth’s work on spatial analysis in order to explore the shape of the humanities, academically and geographically, and to gauge what the results mean for interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary work within the humanities. The investigation should lead to a critique of the current state of interdisciplinarity, and suggestions for development in this aspect of the academe.

For more information about my research, please see my ePortfolio at:

March 19, 2012

Kate Scarth


I am a third-year PhD student in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies. My thesis defines the suburban as represented in novels of the Romantic period (from the 1780s to the 1820s). I contextualize my discussion of fiction with other late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century depictions of the suburban such as those in London tourist guidebooks and treatises by landscape and gardening theorists like Humphry Repton and J.C. Loudon. I ground my work in spatial theory, particularly feminist geography.

For the HRC Scholars project, I will, like the other group members, be interviewing participants. My primary contribution will be in leading the analysis of the interview data. I will mostly work with textual transcriptions of the audio-video interviews. I will employ methodology from my dissertation as I perform spatial analysis of the textual data. I will look for meaning across different spaces, which could include location of birth; institution and nation of study, teaching, and research; or the features of the working environment—the office, the field, etc. I will consider how space and geography are informed by other factors like age, gender, etc.

The use of spatial theory and geography in our analysis allows us to engage with a cutting-edge and dynamic aspect of the humanities. Also, geography is profoundly interdisciplinary allowing us to hopefully cut across the experiences of all our interview participants and to engage in questions of inter- and multidisciplinarity, which is a primary goal of the HRC and of our project. Interdisciplinarity will be addressed in more detail in the next stage of the project led by Jonathan Durham.

March 18, 2012

Christian Smith


I am a third year doctoral student in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies. My research investigates the thesis that Shakespeare’s plays had a formative influence on Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud and that that influence forms some of the roots of Critical Theory (Frankfurt School). My supervisors are Jonathan Bate (during my first two years) and Thomas Docherty.

I am also a psychotherapist with a practice in humanistic, family and radical therapy. The methodology that I bring to this project is empathic active listening from Carl Roger’s Humanistic Psychology. As a therapist, I use empathy to listen to my clients and to attempt to experience their world as they experience it themselves. The more that I can be open to listening to them in an unprejudiced manner, the more I can hear the feelings that exist under surface of their words in session. I reflect these feelings back to them and listen further for what they feel when they hear their inner life mirrored back and when they experience another person understanding them as they understand themselves. This is the central healing mechanism of Humanistic Therapy. In the radical version of his therapy, it works by beginning to reverse some of the intrapsychic effects of alienation.

For this project, I have taught the Scholars Group a modified version of empathic active listening. We will use the same empathic listening stance to open a space for our interviewees to explore the roots of their decision to study their field in the humanities. We hope that this space will allow the interviewees to discuss the depth and breadth of their path towards their topic and to get at the fundamental importance that topic has in their life.

After developing empathic active listening for therapeutic purposes, Carl Rogers then wrote about the manner in which this way of being could be beneficial in all facets of life. He taught how it can be used in education, relationships, business, diplomacy and creative arts to transform life and begin to heal the effects of alienation in society. The Scholars Group elected to use this methodology for the first step of its exploration into the roots of the humanities.

More about my biography, research, podcasts and blog can be found at:

March 14, 2012

The HRC Scholars Group 2011–2012 Project

In the Autumn of 2011, the Humanities Research Centre selected an interdisciplinary group of doctoral students to work together on a project. The group was given some funding and the task of creating any project that they like.

The group includes:

Jonathan Durham, French Studies

Kate Scarth, English and Comparative Literary Studies

Christian Smith, English and Comparative Literary Studies

Maria Hetzer, Theatre Arts and Performance Studies/German Studies

This blog will describe our work as it evolves throughout this year.

We decided to construct our project through learning about each other’s doctoral research and through presenting ideas for a possible methodology. Having no idea what we were going to do for a project, we simply listened to each other for weeks. At the end, a project arose that is a synthesis of our collective thinking. This is what we created:

Our project is an investigation of the roots and shape of the humanities.

It consists of four steps:

Step 1: We will interview a group of professors, lecturers, post-docs, doctoral students, masters students, undergraduate students and other academics to discover the roots of why they choose to study their research topic. Our methodology will be empathic active listening. This method is being utilized to facilitate an interview that reveals professional, academic and personal reasons for choosing research. When this is done well, and when the interviewee-interviewer relationship is good/trusting, the information discovered will come from deep in the researcher’s self. It is our belief that we will find some basic human concerns that motivate research. Our approach to discovering this ensures that we see what is actually there and not what we think should be there.

Christian is leading this phase of the project. He has trained the other members in active listening, a method that he has employed and taught since 1987.

We will be asking for interviews from academics at Warwick and at universities and other research institutions in the South of England, the Midlands, the North of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Germany, Canada, France and the United States.

Step 2: We will apply a spatial/geographical analysis to all of the data from the interviews. This will be led by Kate, using methodology that she employs in her doctoral work. We will be looking at difference across all boundaries and categories of interviewees (national/academic level/gender/racial/university/department-field, etc). This phase of the project will take the common roots that we find from the active listening and, dialectically, analyse their differences across boundaries.

Step 3: We will take the data, the root findings and the spatial analysis, and explore the significance and implications for interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary work. In this manner we will explore the shape of the academe. Jonathan will lead this phase of the project.

All of the methodology and analysis above will be written as a text. This might take the shape of a report, a booklet, a special edition of a journal, or a book. Depending on our results and product, we will decide on the format later and then seek publication for it.

Step 4: We will perform our data and analysis. This phase will be led by Maria using the methodology of performance ethnography that is the basis of her doctoral work. The details of this performance will be decided after the first phases of the work are underway.

We look forward to a dialogue on this blog with the academic community about our project. Please follow our progress and feel free to comment on our mistakes, successes, ideas, and questions.

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