Kollegium Talks: two discussions on the role of curiosity in human and social sciences, March 11 & April 3 at 4 pm

It is often emphasized that curiosity in natural sciences leads to great discoveries and, ultimately, useful applications. But what is the role of curiosity in human and social sciences? How do researchers in these fields manage the need to stay open to the unexpected while grounding their work in systematic methods? Are today's academics still allowed to be led by mere curiosity, or must they conform to the demands of applicability and strategic career calculation?

Kollegium Talks is a discussion series hosted by the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and University of Helsinki Think Corner. In the spring 2019 Kollegium Talks events, scholars of the Helsinki Collegium share their experience on negotiating between curiosity and discipline in research. 

The events are free and open to the public and take place at the Think Corner Stage (Yliopistonkatu 4). They will be streamed and recorded and available on the Think Corner website: https://www.helsinki.fi/fi/tiedekulma/katso-ja-kuuntele.

Monday, March 11 at 4 pm at Think Corner Stage 

KOLLEGIUM TALKS: Unexpected turns in research paths 

Speakers: Jane Cowan (Erkko Professor), Michael Langlois (HCAS Fellow), Emilia Mataix Ferrándiz (HCAS Fellow)

Moderation: Kaisa Kaakinen

When applying for funding, researchers have to present carefully crafted research plans. Yet, the actual trajectories of research projects and careers are often anything but straightforward. This panel discussion brings together three researchers from the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies to share their stories of the unexpected turns their careers have taken as they have let themselves be guided by exciting research problems. Have such personal research paths increased their ability to engage with new research projects in a more creative way? How to make the wandering curiosity of a researcher a productive asset in research?


Jane Cowan, the Jane and Aatos Erkko Professor at the HCAS and Professor of Social Anthropology at University of Sussex, UK, began her career as a researcher of gender and social dancing in Greece. Her fieldwork in the small town of Sohos in northern Greece led her to the archives of the League of Nations to read interwar minority petitions concerning the region of Macedonia divided between Greece, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. This research, in turn, led her later to observe contemporary human rights monitoring at the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. These seemingly separate projects in Jane Cowan’s career have drawn on the insights of previous ones and reveal illuminating connections between research sites and disciplines.

Michael Langlois was first trained in formal sciences, especially mathematics, computer science, physics, and chemistry. He then turned to humanities to study theology, history, and philology, and his current research focuses on the history and development of the alphabet in relation to the composition and transmission of the Bible. For Michael Langlois, the encounter between formal and social sciences turned out to be fruitful and it has never ceased to sustain his research. 

Emilia Mataix Ferrándiz worked as a practicing lawyer after her studies of law but soon decided to dedicate her time to the study of Roman Law, writing a doctoral dissertation on the criminal liability of shipwrecking. Her interest in the commercial and maritime aspects of Roman law led her to finish a second PhD in archaeology. In her research, she connects the materiality of epigraphy of merchandise to the background of Roman law.

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/2315049871848133/


Wednesday, April 3 at 4 pm at Think Corner Stage

KOLLEGIUM TALKS: Curiosity-driven research in practice

Speakers: HCAS Fellows Patricia Garcia, Elina I. Hartikainen, Alexandre Nikolaev, Veronica Walker Vadillo 

Moderation: Karoliina Snell (HCAS Fellow)

Researchers in the humanities and social sciences are often asked, whether their research is scientific and objective or just descriptive and speculative. This panel, featuring researchers from the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, sheds light on the actual research practices in these fields. How do the Collegium Fellows combine rigorous methodology and creativity in their work? What is curiosity-driven research in practice? What is the role of experimentality – including failed experiments? Which comes first: methodology, curiosity, or science policy?  


Patricia Garcia’s field is comparative literary studies. Her research focuses on narrative spaces and their intersection with other fields such as the fantastic, feminisms, and urban history. In contrast to most literary scholars who study the unprecedented growth of Europe's urban centres in the 19th century in relation to the realist novel, she examines how the same realist writers explored an alternative form of expression through their fantastic fictions. 

Elina I. Hartikainen is a socio-cultural and linguist anthropologist who studies the intersection of religion, politics, and race in Brazil. In her past and current research, she has examined Afro-Brazilian religious activists’ engagements with Brazilian state projects of participatory democracy, multiculturalism, and violence prevention. In addition, she has written on the adjudication of religious intolerance in Brazil.

Alexandre Nikolaev is a linguist studying how and when language impairments manifest themselves in Finnish-speaking individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease. He does this by designing and implementing linguistic tests with recordings of neurophysiological electrical activity on the scalp. The grammars of Finnish and English differ so substantially that studies of language in Finnish speakers suggest a markedly different picture of the relationship between humans’ grammar and lexicon than the one standardly assumed based on studies primarily of English speakers. 

Karoliina Snell's research area is sociology of science and technology. During the last decade she has done research on social aspects on biobanks, genomic knowledge and health data use. She has analysed public opinion, health and innovation policies, utilisation of genome data in health care, and governance and establishment of biobanks and health data infrastructures in Finland. Karoliina is interested in how new technologies and data analysis transform health care and the relationship between the state and its citizens.

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/392837998171251/

More information:

HCAS Project Planner Kaisa Kaakinen, +358 2 941 22493, kaisa.kaakinen@helsinki.fi