Humanities Research: A Call for Leadership

4th May 2016

Ethos Humanities Research

In a recent analysis of the trends influencing humanities research Professor Shearer West from University of Oxford outlines a crisis facing the humanities disciplines as they become increasingly disconnected from the sources of research funding.  [read more]

Professor West explains that since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007 research funding has become increasingly concentrated as research funding bodies align their attention to global challenges eg. Climate change, water security, food security. 

However it is the sciences and their emerging disciplines that are deeply embedded in the research questions related to these global challenges, thus isolating researchers from the humanities.

The domination the ‘lone researcher’ within the humanities is further isolating humanities research. 

What humanities need, is research leaders who can lead a team of researchers that influence the direction of one or more global challenges.  These research leaders need to explain how the humanities are central to the translation of much of the research being conducted in the ‘hard sciences’.

This article is a challenge to the humanities researchers around the world.  For many years those in the humanities have looked enviously at the size of the research grants and the largess of philanthropists’ to scientific research.

The challenge explored in this article is for researchers in the humanities to be strong advocates for a ‘seat at the table’ of the global challenge research. The strongest advocates for cross discipline alliance with the humanities are likely to come from within the humanities.  West pleads with the humanities researchers to be proactive, to set aside their exclusive language and build bridges with science. 

Why should this initiative come from the humanities researchers?   The answer is that the humanities researchers have the greater imperative to ‘get on the front foot’ to show their relevance to the global challenges of climate change, feeding the world, clean water, new global pandemics. All these challenges have their origins and solutions embedded in social and cultural practice.

The cultural practice of humanities research dominated by isolated researchers may need to be rethought- but don’t take too long to think about it.


Professor Shearer West, Humanities Research Leadership in Europe, University of Oxford