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Rethinking tradition: The loss of serendipity and the impact of technology on the historical research process

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Abstract

The move towards the digital humanities will see a growing interest in tools such as Ebooks. This study examines how historians feel Ebooks and other technologies are impacting their research process. Findings indicate that historians feel the digital environment makes chances of a serendipitous encounter with a text unlikely. They continue to try to recreate an atmosphere that encourages serendipity within their field, and would readily welcome a method to make this possible.

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By nature, research is a trek into the unknown by routes that may include a research pilgrimage like attending academic conferences, conducting interviews and experiments, and reading related research often via the digital environment that characterizes higher education in the 21st Century. They may find all sorts of information to include pointers to new techniques or techniques that could be adapted to address a burning issue in society or science. However, how their process of discovery actually happened is rarely reported and chance not admitted to as being a factor. Yet, in reality, researchers are very happy when finding something vital to their research, which they did not know beforehand that they would find, referred to as serendipity. Little is known about how researchers can harness serendipity and stimulate their creativity in making it work for them. This work investigates the methods by which discoveries are serendipitously made in research that can stimulate researchers’ creativity toward making unexpected discoveries.
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Introduction. This paper explores serendipity in the context of everyday life by analyzing naturally occurring accounts of chance encounters in blogs. Method. We constructed forty-four queries related to accidental encounters to retrieve accounts from GoogleBlog. From among the returned results, we selected fifty-six accounts that provided a rich description including a mention of an accidental find and a fortuitous outcome. Analysis. We employed grounded theory to identify facets of serendipity and to explore their inter-connections. Results. Based on the literature and the data analysis, we developed a model in which the find brings together all the facets of the serendipitous encounter. A person with a prepared mind (Facet A) realises the relevance of the find in the act of noticing (Facet B). The find is what people encounter by chance (Facet C) and what leads to a fortuitous outcome (Facet D). The find is the essence of the re-telling of the story, which involves reframing the encounter with the find as serendipitous. Conclusions.Understanding everyday serendipity will allow for the effective support of serendipity in information technology. Our results suggest information systems should focus on enhancing the facets of noticing and prepared mind.
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This article reports on a qualitative research study of the information-seeking behavior of historians. Based on semistructured interviews with ten midcareer historians, it investigates how they locate primary sources, carry out their research, and use archival material. The study identified four different types of information-seeking activities, including (1) orienting oneself to archives, finding aids, sources, or a collection; (2) seeking known material; (3) building contextual knowledge; and (4) identifying relevant material.
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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to assess the use of electronic information resources and facilities by humanities scholars at the University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan. Design/methodology/approach – A questionnaire survey of faculty from arts and humanities departments at the University of the Punjab was conducted. In total, 62 faculty and research staff participated. Findings – The results correspond with previous studies conducted in other countries. The humanists still stick to the printed information sources but they pay good attention to electronic resources. Most of them have access to computer and internet at office and home. They are regular users of a variety of electronic technologies. Although faced with many problems, the humanists perceive that modern technology made their work easier. Research limitations/implications – The study is based only on the humanities faculty in a large university of Pakistan. The survey should be replicated on a larger sample for generalization. Practical implications – Keeping in view the positive trend of humanists towards modern technology, universities and libraries should give more funding to provide electronic resources and facilities in the arts and humanities discipline. Special training programmes for humanists should be organized. Originality/value – This is the first study on this topic in Pakistan. The results can be useful to design services and facilities in humanities libraries and information centres in Pakistan and other developing countries.
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Experimental research of opportunistic acquisition of information (OAI) is difficult to design due to the overall opacity of OAI to both the information users and to the researchers. Information encountering (IE) is a specific type of OAI where during search for information on one topic information users accidentally come across information related to some other topic of interest. Building on our prior descriptive investigation of IE, we developed a conceptual framework that explains IE as stopping of information seeking activities for a foreground problem due to noticing, examining, and capturing of information related to some background problem. With objective to evoke IE in users' information behavior and record users' actions during an IE episode, we created a controlled laboratory situation, intended to trigger participants' experience of IE during an information retrieval task. We report about the methodological challenges experienced in this effort and share lessons learned for future experimental studies of opportunistic acquisition of information.
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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to understand the needs of humanists with respect to information and communication technology (ICT) in order to prescribe the design of an e-humanist's workbench. Design/methodology/approach – A web-based survey comprising over 60 questions gathered the following data from 169 humanists: profile of the humanist, use of ICT in teaching, e-texts, text analysis tools, access to and use of primary and secondary sources, and use of collaboration and communication tools. Findings – Humanists conduct varied forms of research and use multiple techniques. They rely on the availability of inexpensive, quality-controlled e-texts for their research. The existence of primary sources in digital form influences the type of research conducted. They are unaware of existing tools for conducting text analyses, but expressed a need for better tools. Search engines have replaced the library catalogue as the key access tool for sources. Research continues to be solitary with little collaboration among scholars. Research limitations/implications – The results are based on a self-selected sample of humanists who responded to a web-based survey. Future research needs to examine the work of the scholar at a more detailed level, preferably through observation and/or interviewing. Practical implications – The findings support a five-part framework that could serve as the basis for the design of an e-humanist's workbench. Originality/value – The paper examines the needs of the humanist, founded on an integration of information science research and humanities computing for a more comprehensive understanding of the humanist at work.
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This paper summarizes an exploratory research study on the information-seeking habits of graduate student researchers in the humanities. In-depth interviews with a small sample of humanities graduate students were used to explore to what extent humanities graduate students might constitute a user group distinct from faculty and undergraduate models.
Facets of serendipity in everyday chance encounters: A grounded theory approach to blog analysis Information Research Strauss, Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory
  • A Corbin
Facets of serendipity in everyday chance encounters: A grounded theory approach to blog analysis. Information Research Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd edition ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Facets of serendipity in everyday chance encounters: A grounded theory approach to blog analysis. Information Research Strauss
  • A Corbin
Facets of serendipity in everyday chance encounters: A grounded theory approach to blog analysis. Information Research Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd edition ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.