Professor Daniel L. Smail has spent this academic year at the Radcliffe Institute, where he studies what he terms the “medieval world of goods” by sifting through 14th and 15th century household inventories from Marseille, France, and Lucca, Italy. Aside from its quirky subject matter, this project is unique because of its collaborative nature: Smail is working with sophomores Mark S. Krass, Naomi M. Wills, and Matthew Wozny, as well as other graduate and Ph.D. candidates, to collect and interpret his data. FM sat down with the research team to discuss what we can learn from studying the material culture of the past as well as from collaborative and interdisciplinary research.
Fifteen Minutes: What are the benefits of working with students on a project like this when the subject matter isn’t of their personal expertise?
Daniel L. Smail: This is part of the way faculty can take science lab experience and bring it into the humanities. In the humanities there’s never been a custom of having research grants like in the sciences. I would love to have a chance to be able to replicate this experience on a permanent basis. We would move into this world where a significant number of undergrads could really gain research experience in projects like this. It’s modeling research in the humanities that involves group collaboration and pools resources.