“The humanities—including the study of languages, literature, history, jurisprudence, philosophy, comparative religion, ethics, and the arts—are disciplines of memory and imagination, telling us where we have been and helping us envision where we are going.”
(Report of the American Academy of Arts & Science’s Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences to the U. S. Congress in June 2013)
People often ask me what I do:
What are you studying?
Why are you studying it?
And, most frightful of all, the dreaded, how?
When they ask these questions, my heart starts to work a little harder, saline liquid beads on the surface of my skin. I feel an ominous Should hover overhead whispering to me that I should be able to answer these questions about what I feel so passionately with much more sophistication—without such somatic distress.
Over the past year or so I have encountered inquiries of this nature many times, and each time my answers become more nuanced, but also unfortunately sometimes more rehearsed, closed off even. To be fair, the answers aren’t easy ones. I’ve gotten my hands around the what and the why of my studies a little better over time.
What am I studying?
To expand, I might say I study the role of humans in those systems. I’m mostly looking at the science that humans do concerning the ocean, but there are many more players in that story than just humans.
Why do I study this?
I love the ocean.
Once again, to expand, I might say that environmental thinking and decision making is profoundly influenced by what goes on at the intersection of science and values. If I want to be a better steward of the ocean (and I do), I need to locate myself and my work somewhere at that intersection.
But what does the work look like?
How do I study the sea I so deeply respect?
The answer is, like most things in this world, complex. And, as any quest one undertakes, it changes all the time and is in a constant state of flow and growth. As I move through graduate school in the Environmental Arts and Humanities program, I continue to learn, explore, and refine how I plan to do this work.
Firstly, I have discovered that (perhaps naively) I consider myself an interdisciplinarian. I find it difficult to choose one discipline to which I belong or one set of methods that I prefer to use. Although, I would say that I use techniques from several disciplines of the humanities in my research.
I also agree with Stanford’s description of humanities research:
“A hallmark of humanistic study is that research is approached differently than in the natural and social sciences,
where data and hard evidence are required to draw conclusions. Because the human experience cannot be adequately captured by facts and figures alone, humanities research employs methods that are historical, interpretive and analytical in nature.”
That being said, I am drawn to methods from the history and study of environmental science and technology and am learning how to apply historical (like working with primary sources) and analytical (like actor-network theory) methods to explore human-ocean interactions.
Secondly, because I am an artist and visual person, creative practice plays a crucial role in how I approach and synthesize my research. Incorporating photography, painting, and poetry have added depth to my understanding and exploration of human-ocean interactions in a beautiful, intellectual, and synergistic way. Practice-led research is still an emerging methodology and has been used and defined by many people in different ways. My use of practice-led research means that there are two outcomes to all my work: a creative piece and a written, scholarly piece. The production of these two deliverables seems to be the one defining factor that ties all versions of practice research together.
Smith and Dean’s book on practice-led research claims that “creative practice—the training and specialized knowledge that creative practitioners have and the processes they engage in when they are making art—can lead to specialized research insights.” I don’t know that I am using practice-led research in the exact way they define it, but because it is an emerging concept, I find that how I move forward, and how my creative work informs my research will be valuable to better understanding and legitimizing the incorporation of artistic practice into traditional academic research. In any case, I am still learning what creative practice-led research means to me and my other historical and analytical work. The creative pieces that are produced are valuable in and of themselves as part of my process, but they also serve as useful and communicative forms of putting the environmental science that is the subject of my study into context for broader audiences.
What am I studying in graduate school?
Why does it matter to me?
I think it is more important to know how it unfolds.
Even after telling you all this, I would be lying if I told you I have it fully mapped out. Perhaps that is the real reason I’m here at OSU—to figure it out. To question the human experience and the role it plays on this grand stage we call planet Earth. To learn how to engage with issues that demand attention and how we can do that using historical research, critical analysis, and creative practice in new ways.
Included work from the top:
“Coupled” Acrylic/Mixed Media from Pteropods Realized*
“Measuring the World” and “Measuring the World 2.0” Acrylic/Photography/Mixed Media**
Still Photo from R/V Atlantic Explorer as an Artist at Sea**
“Collection” Photo Collage from Pteropods Realized*