Serendipity in the Humanities: The Changing Role of Digital and Physical Environments in Historical Research
The research process is in continual flux, even that of humanities scholars. The move toward broad digitization of materials has made many materials more accessible from more locations as well as connected various archives in new ways. Yet, historians often raise concern about what is gained and what is lost through digitization. One area that has sparked intense debate is the impact of digital environments on serendipity, a core experience in historical research. The present talk draws on a series of studies examining the changing nature of serendipity and examines existing similarities and differences between physical information environments like the library stacks and digital information environments like Twitter. How does the heavy reliance on digital sources affect serendipity and what opportunities exist for designing digital tools that support innovation, creativity, and resource discovery. While it is important to realize that the research process is a crooked path, it is also important to be aware of external constraints, including design features and affordances of digital environments, an increase in information sources, and time pressures. We argue that making serendipitous connections is a skill in which historians can be, and should be, trained in. We further argue that the role of physical and digital environments in serendipity is changing and future history pedagogies need to adapt.
Dr. Quan-Haase is a Full Professor of Sociology and Information and Media Studies and the Rogers Chair in Studies in Journalism and New Information Technology at Western University. She is the director of the SocioDigital Media Lab. Her work focuses on social change, social media, and social networks, with a keen interest in novel methodologies. She is the coeditor of the Handbook of Social Media Research Methods (2022), coeditor of the Handbook of Computational Social Science (2022), coauthor of Real-Life Sociology (2020), and author of Technology and Society (2020). Dr. Quan-Haase has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and conference proceedings. Dr. Quan-Haase has chaired the Communication, Information Technology, and Media Sociology section of the American Sociological Association and past president of the Canadian Association for Information Science. Through her policy work she has cooperated with the Benton Foundation, Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide, Media Smarts, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Canada’s Digital Policy Forum. She is also a frequent expert commentator for The Globe and Mail, CBC, Vice, The New York Times, CTV, Global News, Financial Post, The Huffington Post, and many others.