Because of an error on the part of the handover administrator, Kanta's blog post did not go live during her curation in February. Please find her post below--apologies for this oversight.
A scientist on We the Humanities? No, not quite! Yet we will be talking science this week, and I’ll be showing you how this fits into humanities research.
I’m Kanta, a third-year doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford. Although I am based at the English Faculty, I do quantum physics, too. My thesis title is ‘The Stories of Quantum Physics’: I look at the ways in which stories are constructed around quantum physics when it is communicated to non-experts. I investigate how non-experts are taught to define quantum physics, which metaphors and analogies are used to explain it, and which parts of quantum physics are considered the most interesting to explain to non-scientists. Ever heard of Schrödinger’s Cat, for instance?
My background is in the humanities: I did two undergraduate degrees, in English Language & Culture and Film & Literary Studies, and my MPhil was in Literary Studies too. I first came across the study of science from a humanities perspective during a term abroad at the University of British Columbia in Canada. This was when I realised that the intersection of apparently objective scientific facts with subjective, emotionally appealing storytelling – such as Schrödinger’s poor cat! – is a fascinating research topic. Fortunately, having studied the sciences in high school, I was able to catch up with quantum physics relatively quickly. And by ‘relatively quickly’ I mean ‘after three years I still find most of it hopelessly complex but then so did Einstein’.
I teach at the English Faculty – I’m currently teaching a course on Virginia Woolf and modernism – but I do outreach work in both physics and literature. The physics sessions tend to be a bit more dangerous.
In my spare time, I tweet about literature, science, and personal issues such as Brexit on my Twitter account @MsKanta. I also work as the literature section head of The Oxford Culture Review, an arts and literature review website that covers everything cultural both in and outside Oxford. I especially like writing about science fiction and popular science books - keep your eyes peeled for my review of Stephen Baxter’s The Massacre of Mankind, a sequel to H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds.
During my week as a curator of We the Humanities, I hope to first of all discuss interdisciplinarity. Can we still define ‘the humanities’ as a single field, or is everyone in a way interdisciplinary? How is interdisciplinary work defined within the humanities (e.g. combining art history with literature) and what are the obstacles there? I’d especially love to hear from people who are quite sure they do not do interdisciplinary work: how do you define your discipline and your work as distinct from other fields? I’d also like to write about academic outreach, stereotypes and common misconceptions, and the role of popular culture in humanities research.