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What is Research?

An exercise in slow research

Research is a common activity that unites and underscores much of academic life. Each discipline practices and communicates research differently: across critical and creative methods, interpreted through qualitative and quantitative frameworks, performing from libraries to laboratories, supported by different funding structures, professional practices, and networks. Despite differences, research shares a common aim: never satisfied with answers, it asks new questions.

At the Harry Ransom Center—which is inherently interdisciplinary—research acts as a heartbeat that pulses new life into our collections. By asking a basic question—“What is Research?”—we hope to expose porous spaces between our practices that lead researchers, faculty, students, staff, and the public to interpret the collections. The process of asking this question will hopefully reveal intersections and tensions, which become opportunities for future work. We hope to spur a conversation around research, opening more relationships between collections and communities.

Although we think that we know what it means to “research,” our approaches grow with each new researcher who we meet. We want to invite new researchers to expand the possibilities for research, both of our collections and beyond, engaging not only what we think but how we think. We look forward to having you join the conversation. What is Research to You?

To submit to the series, review the guidelines and complete the form below.

  • Guidelines for Submissions

    Storytelling is the biggest draw for a reader. Remember that your piece will be part of a series on “What is Research?”, so thread this question through your perspective and approach. Invite a reader into your method through specifics to animate the process and value of research. Word count is flexible: 500-1,500 words. Ground your piece in concrete details and, either centrally or peripherally, connect your piece in some way to the Ransom Center's collections. The ultimate goal is an interesting, well-written essay.

    This series hopes to illuminate interdisciplinary methods, material and digital processes, cultural contexts, formal and informal institutional frameworks, and other influences that shape research at this moment in history. Each piece should humanize and particularize the stakes of research. What brings research alive? Why does research matter? What pressing research questions enable stories to be told? How does your perspective, training, project, and approach contribute to our understanding of research? How might the questions that you ask suggest future research pathways?

    Readers are from a broad, interdisciplinary audience—beyond academics and people working with archives and special collections. Keep your content and language accessible to a general audience. The Communications Team reserves the right to edit for tone, length, and clarity and will discuss any edits for your review and approval prior to publishing. For direct quotes, include citations for further reading; given the general style, keep citations to a minimum. When possible, we love to share articles bilingually, so if you are interested in translating/writing your article in both English and another language, please let us know! We wish to include a medley of voices and perspectives in this series.

    This series runs through the 2020-2021 academic year. Read the launch piece, and see the archive of articles below.

  • Diversity Awards for Research Engagement (DARE)

    As we work to build a more inclusive research community, the Harry Ransom Center will award prizes of up to $1000 for submissions to the What is Research? Forum that present innovative research in support of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. DARE Awards will be granted in multiple categories: faculty (including contingent faculty), students, staff, and outside researchers (including current and former fellows). This initiative invites open submissions to scholars, practitioners, and creatives from in and outside The University of Texas at Austin. Contributions that highlight underutilized collections related to underrepresented communities will be considered for the award. We hope this series will showcase more diversity in research, ask new questions of our collections and practices, and provide pathways for new researchers to engage with and grow the Ransom Center community. In addition to the cash prize, some articles may be published in the Ransom Center Magazine Online, and selected participants may be invited to participate in a public conversation on research.

    The deadline to submit for DARE is March 1, 2021, but earlier submission is encouraged.

    These Awards are generously sponsored thanks to UT's Vice Provost for Diversity, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Senior Vice President/Chief Financial Officer, and Vice President for Research.

Reading Room

Dr. Gretchen Henderson
Associate Director for Research

What is Research?
An exercise in Slow Research

Dr. Gretchen Henderson

By asking a basic question—“What is Research?”—we hope to expose porous spaces between our practices that lead researchers, faculty, students, staff, and the public to interpret the collections.

Listen Slow:
Researching poet
Anne Sexton

Dr. Tanya E. Clement

While I’m doing this slow, slow work, I’m learning about Sexton’s long and slow process of creating poetry … and about the process for making my own slow research accessible to others …

Learning how to
read again

Dr. Aaron T. Pratt

When you read an old book, you are being asked to enter a different world that only becomes maximally legible when you do the work to engage with it on historically situated terms.

Taking time to teach hidden histories in the archives

Dr. Lauren Jae Gutterman

I bring students to the Center because I want to humanize the past by putting them into close contact with items from the historical events and transformations we are learning about in class.

The right to
research slowly

Diana Silveira Leite
and Gaila Sims

Research systems become difficult to navigate when the subjects do not have established collections.

Podcast as model for collaborative research

Dr. Amy Vidor and
Dr. Caroline Barta

Collaborative scholarship provides opportunities for research that builds community and increases accessibility. It also suggests a way to work across time and space.

Hands-on research aids preservation efforts

Genevieve Pierce

Caring for the Ransom Center's vast and varied collections is interdisciplinary in nature and sometimes requires a research process based on understanding the physical nature of objects.

Opera, diaspora, and interdisciplinary inquiry

Dr. Jennifer M. Wilks

My latest fascination with Carmen began 14 years ago, when I was spending a semester in Paris on a faculty exchange.

Research as
time traveling

Dr. Janine Barchas

Research among archives enables time travelling into the past. Moving a project forward, however, is a far slower process—one that remains grounded by material realities and constraints.

The passion to
push the paradigm

Dr. Daniel Arbino

Research begins with passion. A passion to understand and, if we are lucky, to connect with the research in some personal way.

DARE to Research

Jim Kuhn

Entrants who DARE to share their research will help us grow a sense of the Ransom Center as a living library as we seek new ways to make collections accessible and open to new interpretations.

Scholarship in process

Dr. Celso Vieira

Research into philosophical texts, when they are so distant in time, requires a lot of effort to identify and make sense of implied assumptions.

Rethinking disability and research

Coyote Shook

Leaning in on the academic “misbehavior of rest” and sitting with the anxiety of stillness within the framework of “publish or perish” has given my research a bitter-richness it would otherwise lack.

The women who made Selznick’s screenplays

Erin McGuirl

Recognizing the labor of Hollywood’s researchers and secretaries not only refines our understanding of the history of the studio system, it also contributes to the history of American print production in the twentieth century.

Jean Malaquais and the life of a novel

Julia Elsky

Researching the life of a novel means uncovering the traces of how it was written—not only the edits, corrections, and additions made to a manuscript, but also the conversations in letters or in diaries.

The Ransom Center & NAGPRA: A team effort in research

Ester Harrison

One of the challenges within the Center’s oldest collections is that vital provenance information from the original collector, the estate, or the curator was sometimes not documented or misidentified…

Unravelling layers of mysteries

Dr. Julie Hardwick

Fascinating material held at the Ransom Center attests to some of the tensions that are at the heart of young people’s relationships, and of my book, and with which my students are very familiar.