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Research in the Humanities – the added value of international study

Thinking of studying abroad in the field of Humanities? Considering History, Philosophy, Languages, Cultural Studies or Literature? This week we are happy to host a guest blog by Prof. Gershon Bacon, a Historian from Bar-Ilan University (Israel), who explains the importance of international exposure in this field.
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Let me sketch out a typical week in the past month: on Sunday, a colleague in Poland sent me a request to help chair an international workshop for graduate students from Israel and Poland to be held next June in Wrocław, and asked me to recruit appropriate graduate students for the workshop. On Monday I received an email from a major Slavic studies journal in the United States asking if I would review a new book (by coincidence, by the Polish colleague who had written me the day before).  On Tuesday a graduate student from England sent me a series of questions related to her doctoral thesis.  On Wednesday I contacted a colleague in Budapest to set up a time to meet during my planned visit to Hungary.  On Thursday I exchanged articles with a colleague in the States as part of keeping up to date on matters of mutual interest.
The point of this catalog is not to show how busy my week can be, but rather to illustrate that in my field of history and, I am sure, in most areas of the humanities, our enterprise has become a truly international ongoing conversation, and not just limited to conferences once or twice a year. 
Our research too takes place in an ever-expanding international arena, made possible of course by the Internet.  Again, during a typical week I might consult a number of databases based in Europe, such as Europeana or the sites of major university libraries in Poland or Germany.
Even as more and more of the world's scholars and databases can be accessed from the convenience of one's own desktop, for those of us in the humanities there is still no substitute for direct exposure to the subjects of our research and to colleagues engaged in similar ventures. Sustained hands-on contact with the sights, sounds, language and culture of our specialized fields of interest is a desired experience for making us better scholars, and certainly increases our value in the scholarly market.
Gaining this international exposure, however, demands careful planning and good advice. When is the best stage to travel abroad for intensive, full-immersion language study? What are the best places for such study? The attendant costs? Where are the best institutions for graduate study in one's field? Is it advisable in one's field to do a doctorate abroad and an MA in one's home country, or perhaps the opposite? Is it better to seek out an English-language course of study abroad or is study in the local language preferable? These are but a few of the complex issues that need to be addressed.  Only through the best kind of guidance, from people who have undergone this process and know the challenges and also the opportunities inherent in international study can one achieve one's goals in the optimal manner.
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