The AHRC funds high-quality research and postgraduate training in a huge range of subjects from history to English literature to design and dance.
Overlaps and boundaries
No precise definition of the subject domain of the arts and humanities is possible. There are inevitable overlaps and border territories that are shared with other award-making bodies, especially with the other Research Councils. Where such overlaps occur, the Council’s general principle is one of liberality in defining and interpreting its domain, to an extent that it is consistent with the protection of its core subject areas (where those who are seeking funds for the support of their research have no choice but to apply to the Council).
The Council will thus accept any application submitted to it that is eligible on other grounds, unless there are firm grounds for reaching the conclusion that the application falls wholly outside its domain. It will not reach such a decision on the grounds that the application could have been accepted by another body. Rather, the test is whether it would be an unacceptable extension of the Council’s domain for it to accept the application in question as falling within it. Such decisions are reached on a case-by-case basis.
There is no clear boundary between the arts and humanities and many other subject areas – notably the social sciences – but a series of interfaces, and many areas of overlap. Moreover, disciplines and areas of study are continually evolving, as researchers develop new ways of approaching the study of human culture and creativity.
It is not possible to define what falls within or outside the arts and humanities by reference to the methodologies used, or by simple reference to the subject of study. Rather, the Council takes into account the approach to be adopted: whether the questions or problems to be addressed, the wider context in which those question or problems are located, as well as the methodologies to be adopted, can most plausibly be regarded as falling within the domain of the arts and humanities.
In areas such as cultural and communication studies, for example, or in area studies or gender studies, the Council’s general stance is that if the focus of the proposed study is on artistic or creative practices, history, languages, literatures, or on the study of texts or images, then it falls within the domain of the arts and humanities.
The AHRC does not fund pedagogical research or courses in education, the primary responsibility for which rests with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
The AHRC does, however, consider applications where – so long as the primary focus of the research questions is located clearly in the arts and humanities – some aspects of the work may be related to the pedagogical application of the results of the research.
As in all cases relating to subject domain, the question we shall ask in determining whether or not the application is eligible for funding is whether or not the research questions are clearly plausibly located within the domain of the arts and humanities, as distinct from any other subject areas, including education.