[Humanist] 28.192 AHRC (UK): the arts, humanities and sciences

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Jul 10 00:34:39 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 192.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 9 Jul 2014 09:25:54 +0000
        From: "Prescott, Andrew" <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>
        Subject: Science-ification

These two items in ‘Research Fortnight’ may be of interest:

1. The art of science-ification

The AHRC is changing the nature of arts research

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has set itself an ambitious target: to make the “Arts” in its name as respected as the “Humanities”.

Council member Deborah Bull, director of cultural partnerships at King’s College London, is to explore how this might be done, with chief executive Rick Rylance having acknowledged an imbalance in how the council treats traditional and more practice-based research.

Ideas being floated include forging stronger links between arts and academic institutions, using emerging technologies to study arts practice, defining what ‘excellence’ means in the arts, using different models of peer review and using the ultimate arbiter of funding success: better metrics.
The council is, in effect, paving the way for the arts to join the humanities, which are already closer to science. This ‘science-ification’ of arts and humanities research is documented vividly in A New History of the Humanities by Rens Bod, director of the centre for digital humanities at the University of Amsterdam.

Arts and humanities research funders have long recognised that survival (let alone progress) in the fields they fund requires the conventions and mores of science to be adopted. Applying for large grants, working in teams, liaising with research offices and subjecting work to peer review are all part of the toolkit for the humanities, as much as for the sciences. Now, it is likely that the same will be true for practice-based arts research.

The creation of the AHRC alongside a group of science research funders nearly a decade ago was a step in this direction. And it has reaped benefits. Being a member of the science club has meant that arts and humanities researchers have avoided the harsher cuts experienced by grantees of other public bodies such as the various UK arts councils.

Of course, there are downsides. Over time, for example, it is likely that there will be a stronger emphasis on work that can be measured and replicated: work that involves data and exhibits a pattern of some kind. There will probably be less room in the university system for lone researchers. That is an unavoidable outcome of science-ification.

There is, in all of this, an interesting link to recent history.

It is well known that CP Snow, in his 1959 Two Cultures lecture, drew attention to the level of scientific illiteracy in the corridors of power. Less well known is that Snow, a novelist, was a Whitehall insider and an administrator of publicly funded scientific institutions. What irked him was how the majority of his humanities-trained civil-service colleagues frequenting the clubs of Pall Mall would happily acknowledge how little they knew about science.

The UK government, parliament and civil service are slowly changing from a science-free zone. But the AHRC seems to be tackling this aspect of the Two Cultures problem in a different way: not only through better networking and public engagement, but by attempting to change the very nature of research in the arts and humanities.

- See more at: https://www.researchprofessional.com/0/rr/news/uk/views-of-the-uk/2014/7/The-art-of-science-ification.html#sthash.qXprh9YF.dpuf

2. AHRC looks for ways to welcome artists into the fold

The Arts and Humanities Research Council is considering how to put research arising from the practice of arts on an equal footing with conventional research, its chief executive has said.
Rick Rylance argued at the annual forum of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts on 3 July that there was now “dramatically” less resistance to research in practice than there was 10 years ago. He also said that it was difficult to use measures of quality for arts-based research of “equivalent value” to those used for other research areas.

AHRC council member Deborah Bull, a former ballet dancer and now director of cultural partnerships at King’s College London, will be investigating how the council could become more welcoming to the arts.

Bull told Research Fortnight that this could involve a report or inquiry, and that she is hoping to start work soon. “I’m trying to stimulate a debate,” she says. One aspect to study is the extent of institutional links between research institutes and arts organisations. Bull argues that, although artists and academics work together, there are rarely formal agreements in place between organisations. “Personal links are good but if you want sustainability you need institutional links,” she says.

The council already funds collaborative research by academics working with archivists and museum and gallery staff. But there is less AHRC-funded research in the performing arts, partly because researchers and artists work towards different outputs and at different speeds. Much art is about the experience of the moment, whereas most research is about recording or analysing something after an event.

Rylance said there was an increasing need for research to occur in real time. “This is an extraordinarily febrile, full-of-potential moment to define a new field,” he said, adding that he wanted the definition of research to become more “elastic” and that research itself must become “more and more flexible”.

For this to work, traditional structures such as peer review may need to be reformed, according to Karen Cham, director of Digital Media Kingston, a cross-faculty studio producing research and art at Kingston University. “The clue is in the title: you’re either in the peer group or not. But innovation is never part of the peer group; you’re always on the periphery.” Rylance sympathises with Cham’s view: “Peer review tends to be conservative rather than adventurous, so we’re looking at that.”

Elizabeth Lomas, a research fellow at Northumbria University, has a £42,000 grant from the AHRC to consider broadly how arts and cultural organisations define and value R&D. There is no definition of R&D within the arts and humanities that has equivalent status to that in the Frascati Manual, which was adopted by the OECD in 1962. The definition in the manual splits R&D into pure, applied and experimental work. “The question for the arts is whether we conceptualise research like that too,” says Lomas. Her project will be completed in 2016.

This article also appeared in Research Fortnight

- See more at: https://www.researchprofessional.com/0/rr/news/uk/research-councils/2014/7/AHRC-looks-for-ways-to-welcome-artists-into-the-fold.html#sthash.1lYMHhjc.dpuf

Professor Andrew Prescott FRHistS 
Head of Department 
Department of Digital Humanities 
King's College London 
26-29 Drury Lane 
London WC2B 5RL 
+44 (0)20 7848 2651 

More information about the Humanist mailing list