Research is defined in the Macquarie dictionary as 'a diligent and systematic enquiry or investigation into a subject'. The word 'systematic' has connotations of an orderly and linear process. Such a process does not give a complete view of all research. Some research involves moving from one question to another in a pattern akin to a spiral staircase, which takes us towards our goal via a circular path and not always one forward step at a time.
Looking more deeply into the nature of research, the UNESCO website offers another definition which is pertinent to this paper. 'Research may be defined as independent intellectual enquiry into diverse disciplines and areas, often complex in character, leading to the creation of new and significant knowledge' (UNESCO 2008). This would indicate that universities, as places that extend the boundaries of knowledge, should provide research training across the range of university qualifications and a wide spectrum of disciplines. Research is not confined to the sciences or to the harvesting of empirical data. The purpose of research is, indeed, to gather new information or data, but also to use that information to produce something previously unknown or unrecognised; something which adds significantly to the work in progress. Research can be complex and far reaching. Research methods, in line with these criteria, may also be diverse and complex, not limited to a specific approach.
Turning specifically to research for writers, this may involve an extensive investigation into a particular subject area. It may also involve a diverse and complex exploration, for example of an historical period, a psychological theory, a medical condition or pivotal moment in history. The research process may include reviewing literature, and the study of primary and secondary sources, so that reading plays an important role in the process. However there are other ways to research, as Penny Hanley discovered:
Hanley's journey need not be limited to a physical journey, but in this paper I wish to focus on travelling to new environments and situations, and on the idea that such travel can stimulate creativity. The word creativity can be difficult to define satisfactorily and may have shades of meaning. It is useful to examine how the word is used in everyday language, as a way, then, to understand it in a particular context. Creativity can mean making something out of nothing, such as 'God created the world', or making something new out of old material. There are times when we say 'I created a rod for my own back'. A fashion designer creates a 'new look'. We refer to scientists discovering a theory to explain particular phenomena, although we may regard the process of reaching that discovery as creative thinking. These different ways of using 'creativity' have certain elements in common. An end product is produced which is more than the sum of its parts. The process may involve the use of physical matter, but imagination, inspiration and inventiveness are essential. The final product may, or may not be, beneficial, but it will be something new or novel.
Arthur Koestler, in examining the act of creation, states:
Angela Leung et al, in their study of the effect of multicultural experience on creativity have offered another definition:
The word 'useful' need not be limited to technical, scientific or medical fields. Leung et al refer to creativity as springing forth 'in places far removed from the domain for which the idea is appropriate' (2008: 6). In support of this they refer to philosophers who came to their best ideas while walking in the country, physicists who developed their theories while climbing mountains, and musicians who were inspired by being in love. Writers, during the creative process, also draw inspiration from diverse sources. They describe a myriad of experiences, emotions, and characters. Readers can be entertained and stimulated to further reflection about themselves, the world and its people. This is arguably both novel and useful.
Richard Florida (2005) has made an analysis of creativity across a wide range of occupations. He devised a table that measures the global creative class, based on Florida's three Ts theory of economic growth (Talent, Technology and Tolerance). In preparing this table Florida and Tingalis have listed creative occupations. Based on International Labour Organization statistics, the work force is broken down into job categories, such as scientists and engineers, artists, musicians, writers, architects and managers. Florida's overall analysis emphasises that creativity may range over a variety of occupations, and that creativity is to be highly valued. He asserts that measures that encourage creativity in any field are beneficial to society.
Is it valid to equate creativity across all disciplines? Is the creativity of scientists akin to that of artists? An answer to that question might be that there is an element of creativity in both the work of scientists and artists in all fields. Koestler tells us that: 'the act of creation itself is based on essentially the same underlying pattern in all ranges of the continuous rainbow spectrum' (1964: 330). Along this spectrum the final results of the creation can spring from a spark of intuition or inspiration, and this spark is fanned into a flame by further investigation, contemplation and reflection. Creativity lies in the intuitive or imaginative leap across boundaries or conventions. It is asking the question 'what if' and then searching outside the accepted parameters for the answer. The search to answer 'what if' is not exclusive to any discipline, but that search is very difficult to evaluate. In addressing this difficulty, Leung et al write that:
It would seem quite reasonable to apply this psychological literature to creativity in the arts. A further approach, and one which I will follow here, is to examine sociological studies that, while evaluating travel as a research tool, also assess how it stimulates creative thinking.
In 1978 Martin Rudwick prepared a paper (later published without revision in 1996) concerning the value of travel for geologists. He conjectures that bringing knowledge of the familiar to the observation of the radically unfamiliar allows for an expansion of ideas:
Rudwick's focus is on creativity and innovative thinking. I believe that it is appropriate to apply his theories to a wider field as he has done, comparing innovative travel by geologists to Arnold van Gennep's classic analysis of rites de passage in primitive societies:
In the same way Rudwick claims that a religious pilgrimage may be seen as a quest towards renewal:
This claim differentiates travel simply to reach a destination from travel that is undertaken with a quest in mind, and from which there is some anticipated result. Rudwick concedes that the value of travel on research must be viewed as more than the impact of the unfamiliar. It is his claim that 'we must study that impact in conjunction with the very specific social and psychological features of the process of travelling itself' (1996: 151).
Fiewel Kupferberg, following Rudwick, accepts the 'need for two kinds of passages for theoretical innovation to occur, a chartered as well as an emergent one' (Kupferberg 1998: 196), but notes that there is no theoretical consensus about why travel enhances creativity. He attempts to define and evaluate the specific effect of travel and migration on creativity:
While I am mainly looking at writer-researchers who are travellers, other types of moving around are recorded in the literature as having positive effects on people's thinking and their work. Kupferberg introduces his conclusions about the value of travel by first describing the experience of scientists, engineers and philosophers. Possibly his most famous example is that of the philosopher Wittgenstein:
This example would more closely fit Kupferberg's 'migrant model' than the 'traveller model'. The point remains, however, that it was through Wittgenstein leaving his own country to work in a new environment where he was exposed to new ideas and other engineers, mathematicians and philosophers that his focus and field of study were created anew. It is hard to imagine that had Wittgenstein stayed at home, he would have followed the same path.
Kupferberg's paper is important not only in evaluating research through travel, but also in setting out those conditions that optimise this experience. In his analysis of the 'migrant' model he concludes thus: 'the process of discovery is not unidimensional. It involves several layers of attention beyond the written text' (1998: 154). Kupferberg concludes that the years between 1930 and 1960 were particularly fruitful in the world of science, in part because scientists travelled extensively and came into contact with other scientists and institutions (1998: 181).
The value of travel to allow wider contacts is supported by Paul Hoch:
The 'migrant model' does highlight the effect of a new and unfamiliar environment and the possibility of personal interaction with people one would not normally meet. New ways of thinking and new insights can lead to creative solutions to problems.
The 'stranger model' differs from the migrant. In discussing this model, Kupferberg makes the following points. The stranger is in a privileged position because natives are less inhibited in giving strangers information, knowing that they are unlikely to use such information against them. This, of course, assumes that the stranger is not perceived as a threat. The stranger is in a better position to make objective observations, being detached from the culture and society, unlike the migrant, who wishes to become part of that society. Thus the stranger brings innovative thinking from the experience, and also gains new insights into his or her familiar world (1998: 189).
The stranger model best represents the benefits for a writer moving in a new environment and as an outsider. As strangers, writers are detached enough to make objective observations, and these observations will inform, develop and colour their writing. They are not constrained by trying to assimilate into the community or environment, and strangers do not stay long enough to become settlers. Those who have spent time in another country or environment as strangers may return home able to look at their familiar social environment in a fresh way.
The 'traveller model' is a group that has had less attention than either the 'migrant' or 'stranger' mode, although Kupferberg considers this an important one:
Taking travel to mean geographical mobility, Kupferberg excludes organised or routine trips, claiming that 'retaining the open-endedness of passages is a precondition for them to become innovative' (1998: 195). The value of such travel in developing creativity is that it frees the individual from the tyranny of the familiar. In the same vein Erik Leed writes of the social decontextualisation of travel:
Leed's 'cleansing' may be demonstrated in a traveller who develops a greater understanding of social diversity, geographical features and language, shedding preconceived notions and prejudices in the process.
In summary, to maximise the effect on creativity and the acquisition of new knowledge, travel needs to meet three criteria: it should be undertaken as a quest with a particular goal in mind; the mode of travel requires some adaptation from the usual way of life and thinking, and this adaptation allows the traveller to acquire new skills; and it affords fresh insights to the traveller who is perceived as an outsider. The 'set goal' need not be so specific, however, that it closes the mind of the traveller to a narrow focus, but is still defined enough to provide a purpose or field of enquiry.
I return to the question of whether these criteria are applicable to travel research undertaken by writers. If so, may writers who undertake travel for research expect outcomes that advance their work, in the same way as is experienced by scientists?
A traveller visiting an unfamiliar world, coming into a new culture, and being privy to its mores, is open to new observations and experiences. Writers absorb experiences, and then describe their impressions to readers who will, in turn respond in a vicarious and personal way. A writer, by travelling, may be inspired to create a deeper or completely fresh view of an overall theme or narrative. With this in mind it is significant that Leung et al, while examining the value of multicultural experiences on creativity, begin with a reference to writers:
They identify five ways in which multicultural experience may stimulate creativity: people learn new ideas and concepts; multicultural living experience allows people to recognize that the same form or surface behaviour has different functions and implications; people adapt their thoughts and behaviour to a new environment; having been exposed to a different way of doing things people may be more ready to seek out ideas from diverse sources and thus become more innovative and creative; and in adapting to a very different culture, people may develop greater cognitive complexity. They conclude:
While their studies led them to conclude that the longer people are exposed to multicultural experience the more this enhances their creativity, they also give value to short term multicultural experience:
The initial exposure to a foreign environment, culture or set of ideas, having the force of freshness and novelty, may produce the stronger impact, and be of the greatest benefit to a writer. After a certain period of time what seemed strange becomes familiar and the decontextualisation to which Leed refers no longer applies.
Hanley, while undertaking research in Ireland, found the impact of an unfamiliar environment stimulated her ideas and sharpened the focus of her novel. In the paper she presented at the Australian Association of Writing Programs annual conference in 2007, she describes how her understanding of her theme and thesis, which includes a creative writing element, had benefited through travel:
Hanley spent time in the National Gallery of Ireland 'absorbing the rich variety of innovative art', but claims she gained more from a talk given by the art historian Fiona McLoughlin on 'The Origins of Modernism in Irish Art' than from all the notes she had taken from the books in the library. Hanley was able to see paintings and have access to books that are not available in Australia, but she also gained from the contact with a variety of people and scenery. In particular, the Blasket Islands captured her imagination:
My own experience of researching by travel mirrors those of Hanley. Like her, I spent time researching in libraries, visited geographical and architectural sites and garnered impressions from the physical environment, theatrical performances and people I met. My journey was to Germany and France, and while I did spend time in the National Library in Paris, my aim in travelling to Europe went beyond formal research.
As my novel (an historical novel based on three famous medieval women) gives equal weight to three different women, I planned my time to cover all of them in roughly equal measure. I began the trip at Hildegard's Abbey in Eibingen, Germany. This abbey was founded by Hildegard and is a centre for research into her life, her work and her music. Living there, even for a short time, gave me an opportunity to experience the Benedictine way of life, albeit as a layperson rather than a postulant. In the same way, walking about the Paris of Abelard and Heloise, near Notre Dame and in the Left Bank, brought me to a new sense of their reality not gained through reading their works or reading about them. This was a Verstehen approach to the twelfth century, not possible without immersing myself in such locations. No other method of research would have allowed the same awareness.
I had begun both my novel and exegesis before I set out to do further research in Europe. I had read numerous books and papers on medieval history. I had attended a number of excellent conferences. All this was valuable, but none took the place of what I experienced in Germany and France. Much was gained from this travel because I had left with a certain amount of knowledge (the familiar) to go to a new landscape and environment (the unfamiliar). This corresponds to the ideas of Rudwick, cited earlier, who sees this as a requisite for gaining creativity through travel. Certainly I fitted the 'stranger' and the 'traveller' model of Kupferberg, which allowed me to experience a way of life outside my familiar one. The difference in the language and outlook I experienced led to reflection, innovation and restructuring of ideas. All three make up some part of creativity.
Robert Dessaix's book Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev is just one example of a text enriched because the author undertook research through travel. As a young man, Dessaix had lived and studied in Russia. However, he later experienced a form of writer's block whenever he tried to write about Russia. In renewing his interest in the Russian writer, Turgenev, he decided to travel to the places where Turgenev had lived and worked. This travel freed him to write, not only about Turgenev but about Russia, as he describes in The Background section of his book:
Dessaix began his journey with a purpose, but the book he eventually wrote had a greater scope than the one he originally planned. Now he could write movingly and affectionately about Russia, something that had previously eluded him:
Here Dessaix draws on his previous knowledge of Moscow to enliven his appreciation and perceptions of a typical Moscow Sunday afternoon. Physically he is confined to the streets as he walks about, while his mind ranges over the cultural riches of the city, which he reveals to the reader. In a description of Oryol he again reflects on the changes he observes:
Having returned to Russia after years away Dessaix is highly sensitive to the changes he now observes, as he uses both heightened language and references to everyday items to recreate the ambience. It is impossible to talk of the book that Dessaix might have written if he had not travelled to Russia to research it. But we can look at the one he did write, which includes his fresh impressions and sensations. His earlier experience of living in Russia informed his perception of the changes and his expression of the reflections and descriptions which they inspired. In this research he travelled, with a purpose and with prior knowledge and preparation. Through the experience of travelling, the resultant book gained in scope and dimension.
In a similar way I found that even though I had read much of Hildegard of Bingen's writings and made a study of the Benedictine Rule, I had a new appreciation of their way of life after staying at both the Abbey of St Hildegard at Eibingen and Fontevraud Abbey in the Loire Valley. It was my time in the garden at Fontevraud that led me to have Hildegard describe her experience of walking in the garden of the Paraclete abbey:
It was only through being there that I was able to notice the small details, such as the two wells rather than one, and the fact that some medicinal plants were grown in the herb garden for the stated purpose. This helped me to imagine life in a twelfth-century abbey more directly. I was also made particularly aware of the importance of the Daily Office in the daily lives of the nuns even when they were involved in other activities. Thus I wrote:
Scientists and cognitive psychologists accept that travel can increase and promote creativity. Kupfberg has concluded that while creativity is a highly complex phenomenon involving different aspects, travel opens the way to creative work. A migrant, a stranger or a traveller is exposed to new environments, new ideas and contact with other people in the same discipline. This contact with the unfamiliar stimulates creativity. It is important to note that not all forms of travel are of equal benefit. The traveller should be equipped with specific knowledge, setting out with a set goal while still allowing for expansion of this scope and flexibility of approach. The goal need not limit the mind of the traveller to a narrow focus, but needs to be defined enough to provide a purpose or field of enquiry.
All creative artists, including writers, may make a similar claim concerning the benefits of travel on creativity. Both disciplines are seeking knowledge. Both groups can draw on knowledge and experience gained through travel. A physicist discovers new areas within his science. A writer finds, through travel to a remote island, a new way to develop the character she is depicting in her novel. Another writer, returning to a once-familiar city, is able to depict that city with a new vision. Another, spending time in a Benedictine monastery, gains insights into the cloistered life. Travel does not take the place of more formal research but is a legitimate research tool in itself. The creative stimulus it provides builds on what is already known and leads to the expression of new knowledge and insights.
Dessaix, R 2004 Twilight of love:
travels with Turgenev, Sydney: Picador return to text
Florida, R 2005 The flight of the
creative class, New York: Harper Collins (Appendix A co-written with
Irene Tingalis) return to text
Hanley, P 2007 'Wild things: embracing
the unexpected', the and is papers: proceedings of the 12th conference
of the AAWP, http://www.aawp.org.au/files/u280/hanley.pdf return
Hoch, P 1987 'Migration and the generation
of scientific ideas' Minerva XXV Autumn, 209-37 return
Koestler, A 1964 The act of creation,
London: Hutchinson return to text
Kupferberg, F 1998 'Models of creativity
abroad: migrants, strangers and travellers', Archives Européenes
de Sociologie Tome XXXIX 1: 179-206 return to text
Leed, EJ 1991 The mind of the traveller,
New York: Basic Books return to text
Leung, A Ka-yee, W Maddux, A Galinsky, C Chiu 2008 'Multicultural experience enhances creativity: the when and how', American psychologist, 63.3: 169-81 return to text
Rudwick, M 1996 'Geological travel and theoretical innovation: the role of "liminal" experience', Social studies of science 26.1: 143-59 return to text
Sutherland, E 2008 PhD novel-in-progress
MS, Adelaide, Flinders University return to text
UNESCO 2008 Research on the Development
Agenda http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php/ [accessed 22 August
2008] return to text
van Gennep, A 1909 Les Rites de Passage translated as The Rites of Passage London: Routledge & Kegan return to text
Emily Sutherland is a PhD student in Creative Writing at Flinders University in South Australia, and she also teaches there. In her thesis she examines the role of research in the work of historical novelists. The thesis includes an historical novel based on three famous medieval women. As part of her research she travelled to Germany and France in 2006.
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Vol 12 No 2 October 2008
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb