What Everyone Says About the Humanities Research Project

The 4Humanities What Everyone Says About the Humanities Research Project (#WhatEvery1Says) emerges from efforts of the local chapter of 4Humanities at UC Santa Barbara (4Humanities@UCSB) to identify public perceptions of the humanities, formulate the core value(s) of the humanities, and strategize ways to “frame” these values for effective communication (through framing narratives, metaphors, scenarios, paradigms). (See meetings #2, #3, and #8 of the local chapter: http://4humanities.org/category/for-the-public/4humanities-at-ucsb/).

4Humanities is broadening and deepening this effort by starting its What Everyone Says About the Humanities Research Project, which will be foundational for other humanities advocacy projects. The project’s purpose is to canvass and analyze public and academic discourse about the humanities in order to help advocates develop a coherent message about why the humanities matter to people and society. 4Humanities previously experimented with small-scale efforts at such a canvassing and analysis–e.g., through a crowdsourced Web survey (http://www.allourideas.org/4humanities/results) that asked people to suggest what they considered to be the key value of the humanities and through a study of a small sample of public critiques of the humanities (http://4humanities.org/2012/10/confronting-the-criticisms/).

The What Everyone Says About the Humanities Research Project will expand such approaches by conducting systematic, strategic research on perceptions of the humanities, on what academics and others believe the core values of the humanities to be, and on the way people “frame” narratives about the humanities. We aim for the following outputs from the study:

  • “What Everyone Says About the Humanities Corpus” — Through crowdsourcing and other means, 4Humanities will gather discourse about the humanities from many sources and media to create a “corpus” of arguments about the humanities that can be studied using a variety of methods (including computational text analysis and visualization). Jump to worksheet for contributing items to the “What Everyone Says About the Humanities Corpus” (editable Google spreadsheet)!

  • “Values and Frames Map of the Humanities” — Using topic-modelling and other methods, 4Humanities will identify in the Corpus key “clusters” of terms associated with the humanities as they occur in different discourse streams (public journalistic media, political speeches, government policy statements, academic research, academic program or department sites, scholarly blogs, etc.). We hypothesize that we can discover “value” clusters (associated with the core values of the humanities as humanists and others perceive them) and related “frame” clusters (recurrent narrative settings, scenarios, scripts used to talk about the humanities–e.g., the “parents worrying about their child getting a job” script). The goal is to discover implicit values and frames beyond those that media pundits or humanists themselves think are the obvious ones, and also to locate where the matches and mismatches are between different viewpoints.

  • “Typology Map of Evidence and Genres” — In conjunction with its Humanities Infographics project, 4Humanities will use the Corpus to identify the key types of evidence (e.g., statistics, anecdotes, testimony), media forms, visuals (e.g., “star charts” “scorecards” used in government discourse about “accountability”), and genres (e.g., editorials, prophecies or jeremiads, testimonials, blog posts), used to support arguments for or against the humanities. We will be scouting for both mainstream and outlier types of materials; and we will also see what can be learned from the proportions of such materials.

  • “Typology Map of Spokespersons and Audiences” — 4Humanities will use the Corpus to create a typology of spokespersons for and against the humanities (what kind of people other than academics speak up for the humanities in public, for example?) and also of declared or implicit audiences for statements about the humanities (e.g., when politicians speak about the humanities does the “public” imagined in their discourse center on the “taxpayer,” the “parent,” or an implied peer group of “business people”?)

  • “Action Matrix” of Humanities Values, Frames, Evidence, Media, Genres, Spokespeople, and Audiences — The final, action-oriented output will be an “action matrix” for humanities advocacy that 4Humanities will keep in a Web-accessible database. This database (probably implemented through a content management system) will serve as a structured resource of materials and strategies that can be drawn upon by any local or national humanities advocacy effort. 4Humanities also hopes to produce a set of media and activism scripts, flow-charts, templates, and other materials (including open-source textual and visual materials) to help local campaigns design and implement advocacy for the humanities. For example, action scripts could be of the sort, “If you are fighting these kinds of criticisms of the humanities, then try the following sequence of arguments, drawing on some of the following evidence, statistics, and testimonials.”


How You Can Contribute

Suggest materials for our “What Everyone Says About the Humanities Corpus” (perfect for “5-minute activism”!)

The important first step in the 4Humanities What Everyone Says About the Humanities Research Project is to collect a large and varied corpus of discourse about the humanities. Please help us collect materials for our corpus (digitized materials where possible). For this purpose, we define “humanities” loosely so that it includes humanities and arts and also “liberal arts” in the academy. Materials we are seeking include, but are not limited to:

  • Older, 20th-century, and contemporary statements about the humanities.

  • Statements about the humanities from all over the world.

  • Arguments pro, con, descriptive, and analytical about the humanities.

  • Public media commentary about the humanities.

  • Political speeches or position statements about the humanities.

  • Government policy papers, legislation, etc., dealing with the humanities.

  • Scholars’ or university administrators’ speeches, writings, blogs, etc. about the humanities.

  • Language about the humanities in university, humanities-center, department, and other programmatic units.

Jump to worksheet for contributing items to the “What Is Everyone Saying About the Humanities Corpus” (editable Google spreadsheet)

Volunteer to help us analyze the corpus through text-analysis, visualization, and any other means that interest you (including critical analysis and close reading)

We’ll need time and help to harvest the text from collected materials and prepare it for study. But then we can use help from those with experience in a variety of text-mining, visualization, and other analytical methods. Long lead time; no rigorous deadlines; volunteer now!


4Humanities is an international advocacy initiative for the humanities that is “powered by the digital humanities community.” 4humanities.org

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