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Humanities research key to the future of European policy making

Research and debate at the "European Diversities - European Identities" conference in Strasbourg on October 8-9 has reinforced the importance of humanities research in helping to deliver social policy in the next few years.

The fourth annual HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) conference brought over 150 humanities scholars and policy makers together to discuss the role that collaborative research can play in grappling with some of the challenges facing the continent, it also reflected on some of the questions of identity facing humanities in the early years of the 21st century.

The HERA conference was also doing double duty as the first European Conference for Collaborative Humanities Research. As such, most of the participants were representing inter- or multidisciplinary, multi-institution and international collaborations, designed to answer the kinds of questions too big to fit into one disciplinary "box". The collaborations offered unexpected combinations such as theologians working with neuroscientists, or linguists with biologists. As the conference progressed, it became clear that these inter-disciplinary collaborations along with new technologies are changing the nature of the humanities research.

The need for large-scale, international and inter-disciplinary research in the humanities was spelled out by Jean-Michel Baer, Director of the Science, economy and society Directorate of the European Commission's DG for Research.

The humanities must "be addressing the common societal challenges and problems we face, such as climate change, brain diseases, ageing and scarcity of resources," said Baer. "Humanities have a role to play in nation building, and policy relevant research is needed at the EC level", he added.

The particularity of European research was a theme picked up by Philip Esler, Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Board and Chair of the HERA Network Board.

In Esler's view, "humanities research has a crucial role to play in European policy making, and one that has a very distinct nature from the sciences. "

Over the course of the HERA conference, it became clear that the transnational, interdisciplinary approaches such as these are changing the kinds of questions that humanities researchers can ask. Given the powerful technology and enormous amounts of data now available to modern researchers, these collaborative approaches are likely to become the model for the humanities as it moves into the 21st century.

Thomas Lau | alfa
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