The importance of arts research is often overlooked but conducting hands-on work in oral history and archival research showed me that there’s a strong demand and interest in projects focused on the humanities.
Students in arts programs don’t always know where the information they study in class comes from, and therefore the value of arts research isn’t always understood.
Before starting my position as a research assistant this summer on a history research project, I had no idea what to expect.
As an English major, I’d never been given a behind-the-scenes look at my studies. Many people have since asked me: “How do you even do research for arts?”
I don’t blame us for not knowing because research positions in the arts aren’t as common as in other disciplines.
Learning is often based on available information that’s already been researched and organized. We’re asked to analyze and engage with it, not create it.
The project I worked on uses archival and oral history research approaches to reveal the untold narrative of people that lived and worked in Kingston’s Swamp Ward and Inner Harbour during the 20th century.
Using the Queen’s Archives, I helped piece together primary historical documents to create a more complete account of a historical moment. The final product was similar to the contextual information arts students are simply presented with in class.
The archives have more information than you can imagine, but disappointingly arts students don’t always explore it for themselves.
Another question I was often asked was why should people care? After all, my research wasn’t going to cure cancer.
The answer to that question varies depending on personal interests. Some people will whole-heartedly take interest in our project, while others may not think twice about it.
One of my favourite parts of the project was going door-to-door in the neighbourhood, telling people about our work and asking if they had any information to share.
Some people wouldn’t even open the door, while others would greet us excitedly and share their own stories and artifacts.
Our project also has a blog for which I wrote a post that reached 11,774 people, received 60 shares and numerous likes. Many people commented, sharing their own stories and thanking me for doing the research.
Whatever the motivation for interest in projects like ours — nostalgia, education, pleasure, etc. — there’s a positive response, and even a demand, for arts research.
My research doesn’t involve discovering another planet or curing a widespread epidemic.
But the effect my work had on the perception of the neighbourhood, and the joy it brought to people as they shared their stories with me, affirmed my belief in the importance of humanities research.
Lauren is The Journal’s Arts Editor. She’s a fourth-year English major.
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