Humanists study the human experience though deep analysis of cultural products. These products – often called texts – can be pieces of literature, artwork, clothing, personal correspondence, philosophical treaties, or even altered landscapes. The scholar identifies a collection of these texts to serve as sources to answer a question about the nature of humanity. Humanists typically work qualitatively, meaning they look for data expressed through language rather than numbers. Humanities research analyzes and investigates these human creations to understand the meaning individuals and groups have infused into their life experience in different places and at different times.
Because humanities research revolves around the investigation of texts, research often takes place in libraries, museums, and archives that preserve these documents and materials. A historian may read a diary to understand attitudes about daily events. A literary scholar may seek out early manuscripts of a published novel to understand how the story developed. An art historian may travel to a museum with a textiles collection to understand intersection of form and function in clothing. St. Louis is home to many archival libraries that can provide sources and assistance for your research project.
The following timeline is an example of how you might advance through research during your undergraduate career. To develop your personalized timeline, meet with a member of the OUR Staff or talk with your adviser.
Step 1 (generally freshman year)
- Take general introductory courses across fields to explore different areas of interest and approaches to knowledge.
- Freshman seminars give you an opportunity to explore a narrow topic in depth.
- Attend lectures in areas that interest you.
Step 2 (generally sophomore year)
- Take in-depth seminars.
- Build relationships with your professors by discussing their work and your interests.
- Watch for opportunities to serve as a research assistant.
- Take a methodology course in your chosen major if it is offered (such as History 301 or ELit 375).
Step 3 (generally sophomore or junior year)
- After you have developed a topic that excites your intellectual curiosity, work with a faculty mentor to make a specific research plan.
- Apply for funding to conduct research either in St. Louis, across the country, or abroad during the summer.
- If you are planning to conduct research abroad during your junior year, work with your mentor to develop a plan before you depart.
- If you are planning to write an senior thesis, you should follow your department’s guidelines for submitting a proposal (typically late spring).
Step 4 (generally junior or senior year)
- Share your research with the WashU community and beyond.
- Take an independent study or senior thesis course to complete a capstone project.
Humanities departments and programs have specific information about senior capstones, including honors thesis planning.
- African and African American Studies
- American Culture Studies
- Art History and Archaeology
- Comparative Literature
- East Asian Languages and Cultures
- Germanic Language and Literatures
- Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
- Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program
- Religious Studies
- Romance Languages and Literatures
- Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies