Dr. Ramadan Elkhouly, Senior Researcher and Archivist at The Africa Institute, delivered a talk titled “Sources of Knowledge: Scholarly Research in Sciences and Humanities” at the Sharjah International Book Fair 2023 on Friday, November 10, 2023. He explored the intricate interplay between historical archives, societal dynamics, and technological advancements, and provided a thought-provoking perspective on the sources of knowledge in sciences and humanities.
In his presentation, Dr. Elkhouly discussed the importance of demographic statistics in scientific research, using Egypt’s archives as an example. He revealed intriguing insights from the population census documents of 1907 AD, which showed that around 2,007,461 individuals, mostly women aged ten and older, were classified as “not working.” However, in 1917, this number dropped to less than a thousand.
Dr. Elkhouly explained the historical context of this drastic change, attributing it to shifts in societal concepts and heightened awareness of women’s roles. However, he also exposed that the main cause was the census implementation policy during World War I. The forced conscription of many Egyptian men into the British Army had a significant impact on the 1917 census. Moreover, the state’s initiative to include all women working on family-owned land in the labor market was the key factor that accounted for the huge difference in the census data.
He emphasized the value of primary archival sources, using examples from oral narratives, folklore, and popular literature. Dr. Elkhouly’s paper, “Sources of Knowledge: Scholarly Research in Sciences and Humanities,” stressed the need to contextualize the historical circumstances surrounding the creation of these documentary sources and advocated for a comprehensive approach to validate their credibility by comparing them with other sources.
The talk ended by addressing the role of artificial intelligence models like ChatGPT in enhancing humanities research. Dr. Elkhouly highlighted the potential pitfalls of relying only on ChatGPT as an author, emphasizing its role as a valuable source of information rather than a replacement for critical scholarly analysis.