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Our research

Our research reflects on human challenges.

World-leading expertise

The Global Humanities Initiative brings together world-leading expertise in the arts, humanities and social sciences to address global challenges.

Much of our research deals with these questions by exploring the creative products of the human imagination, such as literature, art and philosophy: how we imagine and create our world, and our history; how different people and societies have done that differently; and how these imaginative resources might offer important perspectives on the challenges of contemporary society.

Individuals and research groups working in disciplines across our faculties of arts and humanities, and social sciences engage in detailed reflection on these most fundamental human challenges.

Working in collaboration with partners across the globe, and with our own students, we aim to promote serious, critical reflection on the really fundamental aspects of contemporary life, around a number of common themes.

Our themes

Research in the arts, humanities and social sciences deepens our understanding of global issues, from the workings of the global economy, to our interaction with the environment and the pursuit of happiness. It covers six key questions (below).

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How can individuals flourish?

Hidden PerspectivesOne of the recurrent themes in the work of philosophers, theologians, creative writers and artists has been individual fulfilment and how to lead a good life.

A part of that is how people are able to express themselves, and how they are described or regarded by others, which can enable or limit their human potential. Research in humanities throws light on these fundamental questions.

Reflecting on the work of thinkers and artists who have considered these questions provides fresh perspectives on recurrent questions in contemporary life, and how we might better address them. Linguists, music scholars and literary scholars also reflect on how forms of expression allow or suppress individual fulfilment, giving individuals or groups an effective voice, or serving to marginalise their attempts to be heard.

The interaction between these things and physical well-being is a central theme of our work in medical humanities.

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Bioarchaeology: Department of Archaeology

Our research in bioarchaeology ranges from the lower Palaeolithic to early modern times, and is complemented by experimental and ethno-archaeological studies.

Centre for Linguistic Research

Work focuses on a full range of English linguistics, from projects on language and identity, the development of language skills to the history of language, and of approaches to its study.

Ethnomusicology: Department of Music

Studying individuals and societies all around the world, including the West, our researchers aim to discover and document human musical life in its full richness and diversity.

Embodied religion: the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS)

How is religion experienced through, and advertised on, the body? Our embodied religion explores questions such as this and highlights the physicality of ancient and modern religious experience, from martyrologies’ focus on physical pain and suffering, to the smells, tastes, and sounds that are part and parcel of religious experience.

Funerary Archaeology - life and afterlife: Department of Archaeology

This research cluster explores the evidence for ritual activities that served to both mark and negotiate the transition from life to death.

Health, body and society: Department of History

This research cluster explores the experience, representation and treatment of the physical body and mind, with topics such as medicine, disability, wellbeing, pain, intoxication and emotion.

Hidden Perspectives: the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS)

Hidden Perspectives is a large-scale public engagement project that opens up interpretations of biblical narratives to underrepresented groups.

Linguistics: School of Languages and Cultures (SLC)

Our researchers and teaching staff draw on modern European languages as a source of data to understand the way language works and how it is practised in the wider world.

Literary Studies and Cultural History: School of Languages and Culture

This research cluster examines the cultural contexts of literary texts across a range of countries, languages and eras.

Medical Humanities at the University of Sheffield

Our research addresses core questions of what it is to be human. The project brings together expertise in both medicine and science, and the arts and social sciences, providing unrivalled potential for multidisciplinary work and policy making.

Psychology of music: Department of Music

Psychology of music research uses psychological theories and methods to interpret and understand musical sounds, musical behaviours, and the effects of music. The subject is strongly inter-disciplinary, and makes use of a wide range of approaches – empirical, theoretical, discursive, and critical.

Visual culture and linguistic: School of Languages and Cultures (SLC)

This research explores film, visual culture, fine art and performance, and supports research-led teaching in these areas.


How do societies cohere?

Human societies are held together, but also divided, by beliefs and cultural values.

These values have varied hugely across time and between places, fundamentally shaping the individual and collective human experience of solidarity, belonging and exclusion.

Religious beliefs and values relating to gender, race and sexuality, for example, are often fundamental to social cohesion, but also serve to divide and marginalise. These are crucial questions for contemporary society and we research these processes across time and in different places.

Dr Casey Strine discusses 'Back where you came from', an exhibition inspired by his Migration and the Bible research.

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Centre for the Archaeology of Childhood: Department of Archaeology

The Centre for the Archaeology of Childhood examines material culture, human skeletal remains, and stable isotope data, and ranges in scale from sites within their wider landscape to single objects or individuals.

Centre for Gender Studies in Europe

This work focuses on gender issues in the European context, ranging from specific interests in particular European states through to questions of European integration, citizenship and cultures.

Centre for Linguistic Research

Work focuses on a full range of English linguistics, from projects on language and identity, the development of language skills to the history of language, and of approaches to its study.

Empires and encounters: Department of History

This research cluster acts as a framework to explore the concepts of exchange, colonisation and globalisation in their respective periods. Research ranges from imperial cities of the Roman and Aztec world through to early modern Mediterranean and Atlantic encounters and the construction of difference in the British Empire.

Literary Studies and Cultural History: School of Languages and Culture

This research cluster examines the cultural contexts of literary texts across a range of countries, languages and eras.

Medieval Europe - religion and society: Department of Archaeology

This research cluster adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the study of medieval religious and funerary practices, migration, ethnicity, gender, childhood and diet.

Migration and the Bible: the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS)

This research explores how involuntary migration – people fleeing environmental disasters, war, or persecution in various forms – influences the ways the biblical texts recount history, motivated its authors to shape its stories, and led ancient communities to respond to the other cultures encountered in their movements.

Migration, culture and community research: School of Languages and Cultures (SLC)

In a time and space increasingly characterised by multiple alliances, linguistically and culturally, globalisation and regionalisation compete for attention and space; this is the time to nurture an open-minded attitude and climate in our research.

Religion, ideology and belief: Department of History

Religion is not only a pattern or system of belief that guides groups and individuals. It is also a way of delineating and articulating political communities; in the widest possible sense of the term, it is an ideology. Our historians explore the intersections between politics, identity and religion both in pre-modern and modern societies.

Religion and violence: the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS)

This research focuses on areas such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, including both ancient and modern perspectives. Further exploration includes religion and conflict in the modern Middle East, all of which overlaps with issues of contemporary politics, international relations, and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies.


What makes politics work, or fail?

The Great Reform demonstrationIndividual and collective wellbeing can be greatly increased, or damaged, by political action.

Our researchers work on how people have come together to solve collective problems, how and when violence takes the place of dialogue and institutional resolution of conflicts, the relationships between different kinds of institution (local, national, global) and between all institutions and the individuals who depend on them.

Behind these studies of what institutions do or don’t do, and how they succeed and fail, lie more abstract questions about justice, equality, individual and collective wellbeing and practical ethics.

These more fundamental questions of political philosophy are fundamental to our understanding, and shared understandings of them are fundamental to effective political cooperation.

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Centre for Aegean Archaeology

The centre's research draws on expertise and specialist facilities in bioarchaeology, the archaeology of material culture and ancient materials, field archaeology, and the study of ancient texts.

Centre for Engaged Philosophy

Our researchers engage philosophy deeply in the problems of our time and ask: how can we build a better future, with people both inside and outside academia?

Democracy and civil society: Department of History

By studying civil society in a wide variety of ways, across many different periods and settings, our researchers resist ideas that this is a phenomenon belonging only to particular times and places. The comparisons encourage new insights about forms of social action, the creation and sustaining of movements, and the factors that enabled civil society to flourish in certain circumstances but not in others.

Intellectual history and politics: School of Languages and Cultures (SLC)

This research explores the changing landscape of intellectual exchanges in the field of European cultures. It draws on a multiplicity of critical approaches and methods (literary and cultural studies, political studies, sociology, psychology, among others).

Law in society: Department of History

How is the law to be interpreted when applied to specific situations? How do people present themselves before the law? How are situations in which there are competing legal systems and sets of legal norms negotiated? Our research sheds light on these questions and more, as our experts explore law and legal cultures across chronological and geographical contexts.

Mediterranean Archaeology - from individual to empire: Department of Archaeology

This research cluster explores the Mediterranean and neighbouring regions.

War and peace: Department of History

Our expertise includes theories of war and peace, relations between the military and society, the impact of war on society, and the role of religion in the causes and conduct of war.


How do we interact with the environment, other species and technology?

At the core of many challenges in contemporary life is the issue of sustainability – how a population of nine billion will sustain itself, with ethical and sustainable interactions with other species and the environment.

MapTechnological change is part of the answer, but this also raises practical and ethical questions about our relationship with machines, and through them with our wider world. Inequality increases the problem, diverting resources and power away from the poor, in ways that many fear are not sustainable, and threatens the resilience of some communities in the face of economic and natural shocks.

Globalised trade and financial markets have delivered huge power to create wealth, but also made much of the world’s population vulnerable to the decisions, ethics and errors of a few powerful players.

Our work in these areas provides a long-term perspective on human interaction with animals, the environment and technology, on sustainable and unusustainable forms of economic organisation, on climate change and human responses to it, and to views of ethical relations in economic life. This work provides a stock of human experience and insight which is invaluable in confronting the pressing problems of the global economy.

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Bioarchaeology: Department of Archaeology

Our research in bioarchaeology ranges from the lower Palaeolithic to early modern times, and is complemented by experimental and ethno-archaeological studies.

Cultural Materials - people and things: Department of Archaeology

This research cluster explores the study of production, consumption, classification and analysis of material culture and uses analytical, ethnographic and experimental methodologies.

Economy and society: Department of History

Staff and postgraduates explore the intersections between economic life and the realms of the social, political and cultural. Our research examines how institutions such as money and credit, merchant corporations, market regulations, trust, citizenship and civil society work in practice, how they were understood by participants, and how they changed over time.

Landscape archaeology: Department of Archaeology

Our landscape archaeology research combines perspectives and methods from biological and environmental sciences, ethnography, geography, geomatics, heritage studies and history. We research in many parts of the world and with a large number of collaborators, including in the UK, Greece, Italy, France, Russia, Spain, South Africa and Turkey. It places an especially strong emphasis on the ways the past actively shapes contemporary communities and their landscapes.

Material and consumer culture: Department of History

Our researchers examine how consumer culture has been a focus for political action or protest and how material culture is incorporated into political identities. The changing legal and economic frameworks over the medieval, early-modern and modern periods are an essential part of this socio-political approach to consumption.

Sheffield Animals Research Colloquium

Research here deepens our understanding of the political and cultural representation of animals. The Sheffield Animals Research Colloquium is interested in imagining new cultures and politics of human – animal relations.


How do we make sense of the world?
Globe, digital world

Research in the humanities and social sciences helps improve our approach to understanding the world.

It explores the limits of our current methods, alerting us to alternative perspectives, and exploring new ways of generating critical understanding of the world.

This includes reflection on the history of science and medicine, as well as the history of philosophy and social thought, and exploring the ways in which other cultural traditions have approached these problems.

A particular area of strength in Sheffield is in the impact of digital technologies on how we discover, store and search texts, images and artifacts. Our researchers are helping to push the boundaries of digital research, but also leading reflection on how digital media are changing the way we encounter the world, and other people.

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Centre for the History of Philosophy

Our centre brings together the wide-ranging expertise in the history of philosophy at the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. As the UK's largest group of scholars working in history of philosophy, the centre maintains an international network to promote research through joint events, collaborative projects and postgraduate teaching.

Cultural Materials - people and things: Department of Archaeology

This research cluster explores the study of production, consumption, classification and analysis of material culture and uses analytical, ethnographic and experimental methodologies.

Hang Seng Centre for Cognitive Studies

The centre focuses on the nature of cognition and brings together researchers across a broad range of different fields, including: animal psychology, anthropology, biology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, economics, evolutionary psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and philosophy. It has links with many universities in the UK, Europe, and the United States.

HRI Digital

Research at HRI Digital supports the innovative use of technology within arts and humanities research. Activities include exploring the impact of the digital arts and humanities and the relevance of new technologies for delivering next-generation research resources; facilitating knowledge exchange; and providing online publishing services for high-quality arts and humanities research resources.

HumLab

The Faculty of Arts and Humanities hosts a major interdisciplinary hub for the study of language, music and cognition, using specialist equipment to better understand human creativity and cognition.

Landscape archaeology

We research in many parts of the world and with a large number of collaborators, including in the UK, Greece, Italy, France, Russia, Spain, South Africa and Turkey. Our research places an especially strong emphasis on the ways the past actively shapes contemporary communities and their landscapes.

Music technology: Department of Music

Music technology is one of our music department's major research areas. Staff specialise in a range of musical activities involving technology such as: computer music composition, sonic art, live-sound technologies, spatial audio technologies, software programming, studio recording and production, and software development.


How does our past, and how we think about it, shape our present and our future?

Many arts, humanities and social science disciplines try to understand ourselves in time. We explore how our past has shaped our present and our future, but also what has been lost or forgotten; and also how little in human life is simply given, how almost all aspects of human society and culture can change.

Storying Sheffield projectHistory is also important to collective identity in the same way that memory is important to our sense of ourselves. It is difficult to explain who we are without reference to our past: place and date of birth, class or cultural background, education and so on. A shared history can, by the same token, give us a shared identity.

How we see the past, though, is shaped by our own hopes and fears, and many understandings of the past are flawed. Memory can also be false, partial or self-serving, however, and people select differently from the past in order to explain how we arrived at the present, and what the present means.

Dealing with the past is often therefore a way of engaging with the present and the future. Many of our disciplines reflect not just on the past, but also on the process by which we try to understand it, exploring how we narrate the past, how that shapes who we are and what we think we might become.

This critical perspective on how we narrate our past, and individuals and collectives, is crucial to expanding the range of futures we can imagine for ourselves, and for each other.

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Storying Sheffield

Our work with how individuals in Sheffield have understood their pasts, and how they might understand them differently, has helped to transform their futures.

Storying Sheffield is a unique course that sees students working together with service users from Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust (SHSC).