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What Counts as “Evidence” in Humanities Research?

September 16, 2015 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Panel Discussion:

“Humanities by the Numbers” was the theme for the annual conference of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, hosted by the Center for the Humanities in Madison in June. The status of “numbers” in humanities research sparked sharp debate—some attacking the loss of nuance and individualized specificity or uniqueness; some suggesting that numbers and counting invisibly undergird analysis that appears singular; others promoting the promise of the digital and ‘big Data’; and still others probing the very concept, status, and deployment of numbers in human experience as well as humanities research.

The question of ‘what counts as evidence in humanities research’ broadens the issue beyond numbers per se. But some of the same debates apply, particularly as we move across the varied disciplines and interdisciplines that make up the humanities and as the humanities works collaboratively with the social sciences, sciences, and arts.


Panel Presentations (1 hour) and Open Discussion (1 hour)

  • Henry Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor, Art History and Afro-American Studies
  • Christine Garlough, Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies
  • Robert Glenn Howard, Professor, Communication Arts
  • Steven Hutchinson, Professor, Spanish and Portuguese
  • Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Merle Curti Associate Professor, History
  • Michael Schatzberg, Professor, Political Science; African Studies Program
  • Steve Stern, Alberto Flores Galindo and Hilldale Professor, History


What do YOU think? What counts as evidence in YOUR research?

  • Is your evidence oral, written, visual, audial, numeric, symbolic, digital?
  • Where is your evidence located? What do you have to do to assemble it?
  • What difference does the form and/or materiality of your evidence make to how you gather it?
  • Do you draw on multiple forms of evidence? If so, why and how?
  • How is your evidence like or unlike evidence in social sciences, sciences, or the arts?
  • Does your evidence shift paradigms (álà Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution)?
  • Are the capacities of the DIGITAL for research and/or dissemination changing your relationship to what counts as evidence for your work?
  • What makes your evidence convincing?
  • How do you analyze your evidence? That is, what methodologies govern your use of evidence?—e.g., “close reading,” assembling coherent patterns or narratives, contextualization, statistical analysis, theorizing?
  • Is your evidence “unique?” A case study? Is representativeness, repetition or repeatability important for your evidence?
  • How does “theory” function as “evidence” in your work, if at all?
  • What is the relationship between authority and evidence? Do you use other authorities as evidence?
  • What is the status of “experience” in your research? Whose experience? How do you analyze it?
  • What is the relationship of speculation, imagination, even fantasy to evidence in your research?
  • Does your evidence contribute to generalizability? To assertions of what is representative? Or true across multiple realms? Or does your evidence remain fully “local,” specific, not generalizable? How significant is this to the kind of claims you can make?
  • How do you use evidence or present evidence to support your arguments in your publications?


Brief Biographies of Panelists

Henry Drewal is the Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies and Adjunct Curator of African Art at the Chazen Museum of Art. He has published several books, edited volumes, exhibition catalogues, and many articles on African/African Diaspora arts and curated or co-curated several major exhibitions, among them: Introspectives: Contemporary Art by Americans and Brazilians of African DescentYoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and ThoughtBeads, Body, and Soul: Art and Light in the Yoruba UniverseMami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas; and Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient NigeriaSoulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts by Africans (Siddis) in India, and most recently, Double Fortune, Double Trouble: Art for Sacred Yoruba Twins.

Christine Garlough is Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, Director for the Center for South Asia (2015-16), and affiliate of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures and the departments of Comparative Literature and Folklore and Theatre and Drama. Her research constellates around issues of art and activism, centering on how feminist groups, both in India and the South Asian diaspora, use street plays, poster work, performance art, and oral narratives to address social and political exigencies. She developed the South Asian Feminist Activism Archive (SAFAA), which digitizes and catalogs rare Indian feminist posters. She is the author of Desi Devas: Activism in South Asian American Cultural Performance (2013), and her new book project, The Danger of Safe Space, takes up questions of restricting discourse to shared political or social viewpoints, and the relation of this to the ethics of care, activism, and acknowledgment in a range of contexts.

Robert Glenn Howard is Professor of Communication Arts, Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies, and Director of Digital Studies Program. His publications include many academic articles in communication studies, rhetorical theory, critical cultural theory, theories of performance and performativity, religious studies, and folklore studies. His books include: Digital Jesus: The Making of a New Christian Fundamentalist Community on the Internet (2011), Network Apocalypse Visions of the End in an Age of Internet Media (2011), and Tradition in the 21st Century: Locating the Role of the Past in the Present (2013). He served as the editor of the journal Western Folklore from 2008 to 2013.

Steven Hutchinson is Professor of Spanish and Portuguese affiliated with the Center for Early Modern Studies. As a comparatist, he specializes in early modern Spanish literature as well as in the Mediterranean world of the 16th and 17th centuries. His publications include a study of the journey in literature as focused primarily through Cervantes (Cervantine Journeys) and a rethinking of ethical economy (Economía ética en Cervantes), and an edited a journal volume on Cervantes and the Mediterranean. He is currently finishing Writing the Early Modern Mediterranean, which broadly investigates topics including ethnicity, gender, captivity, religious conversion, martyrdom, modes of mutual understanding, frontier space and frontier literature, as conveyed in many textual genres in several languages.

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is the Merle Curti Associate Professor of History. She is the author of American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas (University of Chicago Press, 2012), two edited volumes in intellectual history and print culture, and several articles and essays, which have appeared in The Journal of American HistoryModern Intellectual HistoryNew German CritiqueDaedalusDissentRaritanWilson Quarterly, and most recently, Time Magazine. She is the founder of the Intellectual History Group at UW-Madison, an informal, interdisciplinary working group for faculty and graduate students interested in the varieties of intellectual history. She is currently writing a book on the history of wisdom in American life and an Oxford University Press Very Short Introduction on American Intellectual History.

Michael Schatzberg is Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he served from 2004 to 2007 as director of the African Studies Program. His books include Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa: Father, Family, Food (Indiana University Press, 2001), The Dialectics of Oppression in Zaire (1988), Politics and Class in Zaire: Bureaucracy, Business, and Beer in Lisala (1980), and Mobutu or Chaos? The United States and Zaire1960–1990 (1991). He is currently thinking about the politics, economics, and culture of football (soccer) in sub-Saharan Africa as well as trans-historical patterns of governance in Africa.

Steve J. Stern is the Alberto Flores Galindo and Hilldale Professor of History, and is affiliated with LACIS (Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies). He was Director of LACIS (1992-95), Chair of the History Department (2008-14), and Vice Provost for Faculty & Staff (2008-14). He researches Latin American history in world context, has published a dozen books as author or editor, and is a founding editor, with Scott Straus, of the “Critical Human Rights” book series at the UW Press. His research demonstrates the inventiveness of Latin American responses to unequal structures of power, with sometimes surprising impact on world history. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2012), and Battling for Hearts and Minds: Memory Struggles in Pinochet’s Chile, 1973-1988 (2006) won the Bolton-Johnson Prize (2007) for best book in Latin American history. His most recent book, co-edited with Scott Straus, is The Human Rights Paradox: Universality and Its Discontents (2014).


September 16, 2015
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Categories:


University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States