Naughty or Nice? Empirical Studies of Literature in the Classroom

in Stylistics and Social Cognition
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Since its beginning in the late 19th century, literary education has lacked theories that systematize teaching and methodologies that validate practice. Consequently, much work in the area has relied on argument rather than on real data. What is needed in literary education are ways in which scholars develop descriptions of methods that will help them arrive at evidence-based conclusions. However, this is easier said than done. Trying to cope with the problems of dealing with hypotheses, statistics and numbers in general, Humanities students tend to see the experience as both frightening and fascinating. In order to find out the difficulties students of literature encounter when learning to do empirical research, a questionnaire was distributed to 14 participants from different countries who attended the IGEL2 Summer Institute in 2004. Participants were asked how they became interested in empirical studies, what their literary biography was, what they considered the main problems of empirical work to be, and how they thought it related to literary education. Respondents agreed that there is a need to teach students how to deal with real, palpable knowledge by means of well-structured and objective data. This article presents the main problems participants raised in empirical work.

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