“Small” Research and the Big Picture

There are a few different challenges to communicating research to a general audience, and they change depending on the type of research you’re conducting. My guess would be that when it comes to scientific research, it’s easier to explain why your research is important than exactly how it works. With humanities-centric research like my own, the methods are often more straightforward to explain — I don’t need to define any new terms when I tell people about my archival research — but it can be harder to find the words to convince people that what you’re doing needs to be done. 

Earlier this week, when we had to write “problem” and “purpose” statements about our research, I found it most difficult to identify the problem my research was solving. It’s hard for me to say that it’s a problem that no one else has studied the very specific part of history covered by my research — female editors at Pennsylvania college newspapers during World War II. But even if it’s not an obvious gap in historical knowledge, it is a gap, and I’m interested in finding out what’s inside it.

I’ve also been thinking a lot this week about how my research fits into larger conversations about workplace equality in journalism. Mainstream media is experiencing a period of scrutiny and criticism as Black journalists and other journalists of color come forward with accounts of the racism that pervades the industry. Newsrooms have been dominated by white men for hundreds of years, meaning almost all journalism has centered white male perspectives. Over the course of the last century, things have improved, but there’s a long way to go before newsrooms have equity. 

My research focuses on World War II, a moment when many women, most of them white, had their first chance to step into the journalism industry. I think it’s most useful to think and talk about the significance of this research in the context of that ongoing battle for representation and equality in mainstream media. 

At one point, I wanted to be a journalist professionally. I don’t anymore, but if I ended up on that path again, I’d spend most of my time interacting with people outside my field — scientists, politicians, whoever else I needed to interview. As it is, I could see myself ending up in archival work or in publishing,  where I’d spend more time interacting with people in my field. But wherever I work, there’ll always a part of the job that involves talking to an outside audience — maybe pitching a project for a general grant, maybe presenting at a conference.

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