Are most people who work in the humanities in fact interdisciplinary? I’ve been following the We the Humanities account for about a year now, and the work I see described there certainly suggests so. Curating the We the Humanities account myself, from 13-19 February, gave me some great insights into the other kinds of interdisciplinary work out there, and although I didn’t meet any other literature and physics researchers, it’s very encouraging to know that disciplinary boundaries can be loose indeed!
My curation week proved once again to me how helpful social media can be as a way to support the international scholarly community. As I mentioned in my introductory blog, I am based at the English Faculty at Oxford, so sometimes it is difficult for me to fully engage with the physics side of my research. On my own Twitter account, I follow physicists, science communicators, science fiction authors, literature researchers, and many other people whose work intersects with mine. On Twitter, I have found hashtags of conferences related to my field (live-tweeting has its limits, but if people just tag the person or mention their name and the topic of the paper, that is already very helpful!), calls for papers for conferences and book collections that aspects of my research intersect with (such as this August’s World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, of which I had no idea that they had an academic track until I saw it on Twitter), and accounts of researchers who do amazing work in my field but whom I haven’t met before because they might work on the other side of the world.
The We the Humanities account has a very wide reach, much wider than my own, thanks to the curating efforts of the dozens of people who went before me and built up a community of thousands of followers. Over the week, I soon came to recognize the regular followers, who were joined by my own Twitter friends, and several scientists as my discussions built some virtual bridges between @WetheHumanities and its sister account for scientists, @realscientists. As I tweeted about my research, the unbelievable happened as one of the authors whose work I analyse in my research joined in one of the conversations. He gave me some excellent reading recommendations, and made my friends who study people who are long dead very envious.
I was pleasantly surprised that those vast hordes of people who could read my Tweets were all incredibly nice to me. At first, I was hesitant, and quite afraid of negative responses, trolling, and unhelpful criticism. I encountered none of this. Bearing in mind that my research is relatively uncontroversial, I would confidently state that the benefits of reaching out on Twitter and other public platforms vastly outweigh any downsides.
Hearing from other academics has also helped my teaching: in a discussion on teaching and syllabus design, I shared the reading list of a course I had designed by myself, titled ‘Women, Writing, and Mental Illness’. Experts in all kinds of different aspects of this topic advised me, such as a researcher who had worked on eating disorders, who recommended me several primary texts. Course design is difficult work, and a teacher working by herself often falls back on familiar works, which can lead to biases with respect to the canon, the country where the texts come from, and the gender of the authors. This is why researchers who are active on Twitter are amazing: you are experts, and you have the opportunity to share your expertise on a platform where millions of people are able to find it.