It’s no secret that the popularity of liberal arts degrees has been declining in recent years, leading to national budget cuts due to the aversion of the field. This unfortunate reality has coincided with a decline in the amount of humanities research conducted.
But when it comes to humanities research, there’s a bigger issue than the general decline of interest. Students lack the knowledge of exactly how to get involved and conduct research in that field. This needs to change.
Starting this semester, the research office is funding GW’s first-ever undergraduate research journal, the GW Undergraduate Review, run by three student editors who are all science majors. Officials said the journal will include projects in fields ranging from STEM to the liberal arts, like humanities. Although STEM research is as abundant as it is important, humanities research is often overlooked and undervalued. This undergraduate journal should push to include more humanities research, and liberal arts students should commit to conducting and publishing more research in their field.
Although this undergraduate journal is open to publishing humanities research, the reality is that not many students at GW have an interest, see an importance or even know how to conduct research in the field of humanities. Additionally, a paradigm has sprouted that places STEM majors on a pedestal, overshadowing and wilting public opinion on the importance of liberal arts majors in general. I’ve noticed that many students around campus have an aversion to the humanities, except the humanities majors themselves. STEM students and even many international affairs and political science majors are seemingly under the impression that humanities majors won’t pay off, not financially or intellectually. But this impression couldn’t be more wrong.
Students and faculty can pursue and publish more research in the humanities, but it’s different from researching fields in the social sciences, lab sciences, math and engineering. Humanities research requires a more interpretive approach. Research in science involves procedures and experiments, while research in literature involves “posing questions about common assumptions, uncovering new meanings in artistic works or finding new ways to understand cultural interactions,” according to the Stanford Humanities Center. Instead of working on your experiments in a laboratory, you do them in a library.
Changing this mindset of apathy toward research in humanities is going to be difficult, but it’s essential that humanities students who are even remotely interested in the field take the initiative and try to find the answers to questions that arise in the field. Instead of shrugging off questions or thoughts, write them down. Don’t assume the textbook in front of you has all you need to know, question the perspectives written inside it. Instead of blind acceptance, challenge what you learn. That’s how hypotheses are created, and that’s how research is started. Once the question is asked, the process follows suit. Realizing that humanities research is just as important as research from STEM fields is the first step. Students should ask their humanities professors about research they are working on and find out how to get involved.
Most English teachers – and English majors like me – couldn’t care less about what Hamlet said on page 52. They care about whether or not you recognize that Shakespeare was able to encapsulate and express human nature and psychological mindsets in the 14th century that we have only come up with terms for in the past 50 years. Not only was he ahead of his time, but the notes he hit have transcended time and are still applicable to human nature in modern society. The lessons we learn by interpreting the information we are given in these fields become the foundation for how we learn for the rest of our lives.
Humanities research specifically can spur us to re-evaluate history and life. For example, history professor Tyler Anbinder and his students have studied bank records and ancestry databases of New York’s Irish immigrants to determine whether the American dream is actually attainable.
This research and field also teaches communication. Without the liberal arts world teaching us how to communicate, there would be no way to understand what is happening inside the STEM world. The two fields balance each other out and create a blueprint for how the world interacts as a whole. That is why it is important that publications of research in the humanities are as frequent as publications on STEM. Without one, you can’t understand the other.
Mary Overton, a freshman majoring in English, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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