What’s the point (of research)?

#umwdomains. Weller, in his chapters on research and the idea of digital research (4-5), tries to define just what constitutes research. But I find myself not asking “what is research”? but rather “why research”? What’s the point? The answer to that question has a very different answer for different people depending on where they work, what they research, what stage they are in their careers. For me, when I first started down the path to becoming a professor of Spanish, I did research to please others–first my professors, then my dissertation committee, then the readers at various journals to, in turn, please potential employers, then to please my supervisors and senior colleagues.  Not that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, but personall fulfillment wasn’t my main objective. Then when I came to Mary Washington, I actually felt a freedom I hadn’t felt before in my research. Proving a “pattern of professional activity” for tenure and promotion was not a very big hurdle for me, which then allowed me not to worry so much about a certain number of articles, or publishing in certain places, or getting that book by a certain point. It allowed me to pursue my interests in research. I went after publishing a book, which took time with my heavy teaching load, but research began to provide real personal and professional rewards to me. I began to see how my research and writing spilled over into the classroom and vice versa. Still, I didn’t really see myself as part of a larger researching community. Sure, I went to conferences and I read others’ articles, but it wasn’t until I started keeping a blog, briefly, in 2006-2007, as I started a new research project that I understood my research as part of something much larger. I started the blog for my students–to include them in on my research and writing process. But then I got a comment from a doctoral student from Madrid who was researching a similar topic. That initial contact led to wonderful and very fruitful professional relationship that then led me (and my new colleague in Spain) to other connections.  Since then I have come to see my work not in isolataion–not as something that I do for others, or even for myself, but rather that I do in dialogue, and as a small part of a much larger process of knowledge creation. Last week, Cervantes Virtual–an important digital library in Spain–announced its new page on María Rosa Gálvez, a late-Enlightenment playwright who was one of the women I wrote my dissertation on (and eventually a number of articles and a chapter in my book)back when only a handful of people even cared about her work. Another wonderful colleague at the University of Alicante, Helena Establier (whom I’ve never met in person actually!), coordinated this effort, which brings together research from many different scholars, including me! I think it represents a little of what Weller was getting at in his chapters about a new way of thinking about scholarship. Certainly my thinking about research has evolved.




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