Report: Arts and Humanities Research measurement, impact, and evaluation

Recognising the Value of the Arts and Humanities in a Time of Austerity

I link here to a report I co-authored while in Dublin Institute of Technology’s (DIT) Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU). It was undertaken under the auspices of HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area), a partnership between 21 Humanities Research Councils across Europe and the European Science Foundation (ESF), which has ‘the objective of firmly establishing the humanities in the European Research Area and in the European Commission Framework Programmes.’ I quote from the introduction:  

“It is against this backdrop that the HEARAVLUE project (funded by the HERA programme, an ERA-NET network funded by the European Commission and 19 research councils responsible for arts and
humanities research across Europe) was undertaken. Drawing on experiences in three countries
(Ireland, Netherlands and Norway), HERAVALUE seeks to increase our understanding of the
contribution that university-based arts and humanities research makes to society and the economy
by exploring how it is defined, appreciated and accounted for by researchers, policymakers and civil
society. It aims to explore assumptions held by these different stakeholder constituencies, and to
compare and contrast their perceptions and considerations of creative values, creativity and
innovation, and impact and benefit. Furthermore, it aims to identify appropriate practices and
methodologies to assess and demonstrate quality and value beyond the academy. The key objective
is to better understand what really matters rather than what is easily measured.

While many of the issues identified above were not fully formed at the beginning of the project, over
its duration, the project’s necessity has become more obvious – and has been eagerly awaited. It has
become clear that arts and humanities researchers, policy makers and funding agencies, and civil
society more widely are, each in their own and different ways, looking for ways to recognise and
value the important contribution of arts and humanities research within the new policy paradigm.
Important discussions have taken place within and between the academy and the policy community,
and an all-island Irish Humanities Allliance has been formed to “generate public awareness of the
importance of humanities teaching and research in higher education and society at large, and to
inform and shape public policy”.

The Irish national study gathered the views of a diverse range of people across multiple stakeholder
groups – researchers, policy makers, and civil society. Both sectors of Irish higher education,
universities and institutes of technology, were interviewed, in addition to representatives of both
the private-sector and state agency policy-makers; members of civil society included communitybased and national-level arts organisations and bodies, as well as the media. In total, the views of
forty-one people were gathered during 2011 and 2012 for this study.”

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A formal approach to poetry

How close does the “history of ideas” approach come to data-mining as the study and criticism of literature? I was rereading Christopher Tilmouth’s Passion’s Triumph Over Reason, and I began thinking about this. I met the author a few years back, in his Cambridge room in a turret of Peterhouse, when I was planning on undertaking a PhD (on the poetry of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester) there. We discussed the various approaches that are common now, and while he is not necessarily a party to the more theory-laden schools of thought, he certainly was familiar with their content and understood their attraction to many. I was there to talk to him about the possibility of taking a more formal approach to literature (which is in keeping with my techno-functionalist interests in philosophy!), one which did not make the text merely a conduit to discuss a particular theory of discourse, one which, incidentally might be anachronistic. At the same time, however, I felt that there was something about the historical scholarship approach to poetry that didn’t resonate for me. Continue reading

Literary and unliterary reading

For myself, I split the reading of literature into two broad groups, namely the literary and the unliterary. The unliterary reader approaches a piece of fiction, or a poem, the way they would if it were any other text. They are epistemic and systematic, and so we can perceive the impact a book (etc.) has on them almost immediately, since their experience of it is not mediated by other concerns beyond “what does this tell me”. The literary reader’s experience is reflected, however, and so a text can fruitfully be read and reread. It is in this sense, like Montaigne in his tower, reading his 5,000 book library over and over, a little at a time, that such literary readers may be considered gnostic. It is the continued experience of the text that defines them, because they are an element of a community of interpreters. This goes for all readers of texts, including films, comics, magazine articles, etc. If you have at any stage debated the merits of a particular text, or suggested “what if they had casted X rather than Y”, or played some variation of “name your top 5 villains of all time, and say why”, then you are a member of this interpretive community. You are a literary reader.  Continue reading