Ways of Knowing (Epistemologies)
From Socrates’ assertion that he knows nothing, to Descartes’ pronouncement that to think is to be, to Hume’s claim that all knowledge stems from the passions, to Foucault’s dismissal of all knowledge as a wielding of power, accounts of knowing have been various and conflicting. Interdisciplinary research demonstrates that knowledge does not arise in a vacuum. Scientific discoveries in the early modern period intersect with challenges to religious understanding and novel conceptions of nature, both human and other. How we know can be attributed to revelation, to philosophical contemplation, to universal empirical causalities, to culturally specific historical generations, or even to technology, the combination of techne and logos. Topics of inquiry in the field of epistemologies might include examination of the ground of knowledge (such as cognitive, emotive, narrative, empirical), relations between knowledge and power, anthropological and sociological contexts of knowledge, gender and identity, and comparative accounts of knowledge across cultures or historical periods. This field allows for a wide range of research topics.
Critique and Social Transformation
This field encompasses the work of those who critique social, political, and ideological structures in order to undermine and transform them. This field can include Karl Marx, who occupies a central place in this area, as well as post-Marxists who point to ways in which ‘culture’ can both reinforce bourgeois hegemony and offer a path to liberation from it. Contemporary theorists and post-modern critique of society in turn subject Marx and his successors to analysis and criticism. Students working within this field will be encouraged to develop their own analysis and interpretation of modern critiques and post-modern critiques through exploring the possibility that historical transformation can be driven by forces that are independent of the action of intellectuals seeking social and political change.
Culture and Aesthetics
The field of culture and aesthetics bridges philosophy, literature, art, the performing arts and critique. Many would claim that assertions regarding aesthetic judgement and value do not hold up in the modern context, where consensus on meaning is eclipsed by multiple sites of aesthetic and cultural interpretation. Aesthetic judgments of beauty may not necessarily accord with judgments of what is true, or good, and the unhinging of aesthetics from these matters brings cultural considerations to the forefront of inquiry. Questions that might inform research in this field include the relationship between thought and art, notions of beauty and the sublime, the role of theatre in classical and democratic forums, the differences or collapse between high and low culture, conceptions of public and private space, and the distinction between aesthetics and reason in forming judgments.
The Digital Humanities
The field of digital humanities is dedicated to the use of the computer to support analysis, expression and documentation in the humanities. Research in this domain is divided into three specific streams: 1) The uses of software applications to support analysis. Specific examples include the use of text mining software to support analysis in literature, and the use of Geographic Information Systems in history. 2) Devising and testing the efficacy of novel forms of representation in digital environments. Here the object is to devise and test new formalisms, and the tools and workflows necessary to support their expression and dissemination. 3) Conceiving, constructing and testing new platforms for representation. Here platforms are defined as repositories in which objects are instantiated and disseminated. A book is a platform, so too is the scroll. Digital Humanists are currently interested in designing online platforms that house text, sound, 2D, 3D and 4D objects.