Humanities: Research Methods

Research in the humanities can be accomplished through a surprisingly diverse range of methods - these apply equally well to the study of languages, literature, the fine arts, applied arts, and religion. Most of these methods fall into two basic categories:

  1. Extrinsic or Contextualist approaches

  2. Intrinsic or Isolationist approaches

Extrinsic or Contextualist approaches

These are largely historical in orientation - they seek to examine the context, the milieu, the background that produced the literary text, artwork, idea or author/artist.

  • Such approaches assume that there are causal connections between the nature of a work of art (including its content and its form) - or a linguistic (or ideological) phenomenon and the historical moment in which it occurred

Intrinsic or Isolationist approaches 

These concern themselves solely with the structure and materials that constitute the text, painting, sculpture, vase, photograph, film, building, play (or any other artifact).

  • By “structure” and “materials” we mean not only the diverse elements that comprise form and content, but the innate and unique relationship - indeed, the complex interaction - that those various elements have with each other, and that collectively produce and unify the aesthetic qualities of the artifact
  • Factors outside the text or artwork itself are banned from consideration (the author or artist, the facts of his/her life, the historical period in which work occurred and all events and persons associated with it, the history of the genre or medium of the work under scrutiny, etc.)

Methods can be combined as well if there is a logical reason associated with the nature of a particular research problem for doing so.

For a detailed discussion of these approaches and methods, please click on the PDF below, or consult with your Research Advisor.


methods_in_the_humanities.pdf299 KB