Why should humanities research be pitched?

“Humanities research should be visible everywhere.”
We asked a few well-respected humanities researchers to share their views on why their academic field should be better represented in public.

Humanities research

Can humanities research be pitched?

“Yes, humanities research can be pitched. Of course, there are some topics or branches of science that fit the pitch format better. But it’s not impossible to pitch humanities research either”, says Tuomas Heikkilä, general history and church history docent.

“Knowing how to condense your message is also a very impactful and practical skill.”

Research pitching means that the researcher must present their research idea in a very short time, usually in only 3 or 5 minutes. Other than that, the content of the pitch depends on the researcher. Pirjo Hiidenmaa, professor of non-fiction studies and non-fiction writing, encourages humanities researchers to pitch in their own way.

“You don’t have to make the pitch about theories and terminology, instead you can ask questions. Why does communication between people so often fail? Why do people have such a passionate relationship with food? Why do we value different things? Asking these kinds of questions is a great way for humanities researchers to pitch”, Hiidenmaa says.

Arto Mustajoki, professor of Russian and former dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Helsinki, believes that when learning to pitch, researchers can also learn useful skills for selling their ideas.

“Humanities researchers often think of selling as a negative thing. But if you manage to sell an idea that makes the world a better place, isn’t that something worth doing?”

Why should humanities research be pitched in new arenas?

The Research Pitching Competition finale takes place at Slush, a huge startup event with laser lights and  a lot of buzz. Slush with its flashing lights and almost religious atmosphere may not feel like the most natural place for humanities researchers to be. But it should do, says Mustajoki.

“Humanities research should be visible everywhere, also at Slush.”

Heikkilä agrees: “Humanities researchers are shooting themselves in the foot by staying isolated in their silos. Instead, we should be going into those arenas where humanities research is needed and which are full of our research subjects: humans.”

Heikkilä believes that if humanities researchers don’t take the stage and talk about being human, far less knowledgeable people will talk about it instead.

“If that happens, all the knowledge we are creating will be left aside.”

Professor Hiidenmaa thinks humanities research should play a bigger part in the invention of new ways to do things.

“An understanding of humans, culture, ethics and so on should always be a part of creating new technologies and reforming societal processes. It’s careless to do so without involving humanities research.”

Hiidenmaa has also noticed some double standards in people’s attitudes towards the tech and startup world.

“As a humanities researcher, I’m irritated by the fact that humanities researchers often disapprove of the tech and startup world. Couldn’t we approach it as humanities researchers and try to understand it and ask questions? If anthropologists can to go to Papua New Guinea to research local wedding ceremonies, why can’t they go to Slush and observe how start-ups are construed?”

Do humanities researchers have wild and bold research ideas?

Yes, yes and yes, say all our interviewees. They also recognise that at this particular time, many of the wicked problems we are facing can’t be solved without the humanities.

“The big problems we have right now are essentially connected to human sciences. You can’t approach climate change only through technical widgets and without examining human behaviour”, says Hiidenmaa.

Furthermore, producing novel humanities research is actually relatively easy, because age-old questions are always relevant in the field.

“As the world changes, so does our relation to it. The studies we conduct also always tell us something about who and what we have imagined ourselves to be like at that time”, Heikkilä states.

In his view, visibility is the lifeblood of vital humanities research.

“If we’re not putting ourselves out there, the research we do will lose much of its value. Research shouldn’t be about engaging in intellectual snobbery in small circles, but about making the world a better place, little by little.”