Not all purposeful research stems from machines and algorithms. It can emerge from literary texts, artwork and…online dating sites.
The Humanities Center at West Virginia University is reinforcing the relevance of humanistic inquiry and research devoted to the study of human thought, culture and history. And it’s highlighting how learning the skills and thinking to thrive in today’s globalized society is more important than ever.
Funded by a WVU endowment from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, this is only the third year of the Center’s program that gives faculty the opportunity to apply for competitive grants and fellowships. The funding helps scholars expand the scope of their research, explore new experimental approaches and better engage with the public. Thanks to these grants, the Humanities Center funded 15 projects representing 10 humanities disciplines, five of which featured interdisciplinary teams and several that included a public humanities component.
Two top research projects come from the first two Humanities Center Fellows, Rose Casey, assistant professor of English, and Liesel Sharabi, assistant professor of communication studies.
Casey’s project, “Make Change! How Books Act Upon the World,” examines how books and artworks not only reflect the world we live in but shape it. Meanwhile, Sharabi has been conducting interviews with former online daters for her project, “Exploring the Interconnections Between Online Dating, Technology Use and Marriage.”
Casey’s research explores how literary texts engage with, respond to and influence the world, focusing especially on the relationship between legal processes and literary form. From her studies, she finds evidence where a South African novel prompted changes to intellectual property laws, while a worldwide bestseller, “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, has spurred modification of Indian inheritance and divorce laws.
Although her research takes her to different parts of the world, Casey’s project circles back to Morgantown. In collaboration with the Morgantown Public Library, Morgantown High School, Boys and Girls Club, the WVU Art Museum and the WVU English Department, she has been discovering how artwork can shape participants’ perspectives of their local surroundings.
“It is an honor to be named one of the first WVU Humanities Center Fellows and be able to engage more with community partners because of this opportunity,” Casey said. “I’ve been able to clarify my findings by engaging with our local students and community members and include this research in the introduction to my upcoming book. I see this project as the beginning of an extended collaboration with local community members and engagement in public humanities programs.”
With more than one-third of marriages now starting online, Sharabi is uncovering the ways that marital dynamics differ as a result of individuals meeting online. Her studies look into how the use of technology may help or harm relationships. She is especially interested in how people perceive online dating and technology use as affecting their marriage. To that end, she has been asking study participants questions about their past online dating history, the role of online dating in their current relationship and the ways they use technology to communicate with their partner.
“A project of this size would not be possible without a fellowship from the Humanities Center,” Sharabi said. “Thanks to this boost of support, I’ve been able to reach a larger sample size and use more resources for data preparation and analysis. As more and more people turn to online dating for help with something as significant as finding a life partner, it’s important to understand the long-term impact these technologies are having on marital relationships.”
“Our current Humanities Center Fellows’ projects are great examples of how the humanities work in our daily lives,” said Humanities Center Director Rhonda Reymond. “They feature exceptional scholarship that also contributes to the Center’s commitment to interdisciplinary and publicly engaged humanities.”