A word of thanks for university support for Humanities research, on AU’s Employee Recognition Day

[I shared this short word of thanks on the occasion of receiving this year’s PARSE research award, at today’s annual Employee Recognition event at Athabasca U, in the town of Athabasca.]

Thanks so much to Athabasca University for the President’s Award for Research and Scholarly Excellence. Thanks especially to the judges of this award; the colleagues whom I consulted about applying to this award; and Athabasca University Press, for publishing my book, The Medium Is the Monster: Canadian Adaptations of Frankenstein and the Discourse of Technology. It’s been a long time coming: the project started over a decade ago, in 2006, and there are many reasons it’s taken so long to see print. I’m relieved to see that other studies of Frankenstein have taken as long. And I’ve made other workload choices (especially in service) year to year at AU. Maybe I’m making up for some of that time, but during this PARSE leave I’m now working on not one but three book projects. But enough about me.

The President’s Award for Research and Scholarly Excellence recognizes and supports several practices and values vital to preserving and building our research university. For one thing, the PARSE award supports Canadian scholarly book publishing at a time that sector is being squeezed by global competitors (not by copyright law, as some lobbyists claim). But for another thing, closer to home, the PARSE builds and diversifies AU’s research culture. AU support, like the PARSE, for research across all our disciplines is vital in a provincial context where we must compete for external funding and awards with two of Canada’s biggest universities (who shall remain nameless here).

As an internal support for disciplinary research, the PARSE also supports quality teaching, since research and teaching are mutually constituted in university work of excellence. In this way, the PARSE affirms and builds AU’s status as a comprehensive academic research university (or “CARI”) – a status that’s vital to our students. Students come to AU because they know we’re a real research university.

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from M. Terras et al, “The Humanities Matter!”, 2013, 4humanities.org/infographic. Click for full-size image.

And as both an AU award and a book-publishing award, the PARSE is especially appreciated by a Humanities scholar like me: in Humanities disciplines (like English, history, or philosophy), it’s books, not articles, that are the currency of the realm. And most if not all Humanities research is not applied, it’s pure or curiosity-driven (and sometimes, as a colleague reminds me, even fun-driven) research. The value of Humanities research isn’t well appreciated by the public because it’s not obviously useful. But usefulness is not the appropriate way to measure Humanities research. Humanities research may have no economic application; what it produces is critical knowledge, and that’s a vital, non-economic public good. At its best, Humanities research speaks truth to power, promotes engaged citizenship, and unsettles common sense, making the familiar strange and vice versa. Humanities research is, in a word, critical. And as Stuart Hall said, “the university is a critical institution or it is nothing.”

Thank you again for conferring on me the honour – and the responsibility – of this extraordinary award.

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