Paula Hohti challenges herself to become a better researcher
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Assistant Professor Paula Hohti from the Department of Art. My current research examines the history of material culture. I am an art historian interested in the history of everyday life, fashion, and home decoration. I am especially interested in the relationship between ordinary people with culture in the early modern and the Renaissance periods.
How did you become a researcher?
My background is slightly different than that of most researchers. I was supposed to become a pianist, but at the age of 28 I decided to apply to the University of Sussex in England to complete a degree in art history. It was a great choice. The teaching was inspiring and of a high standard, and for me it opened the door to the world of science and art history. I was so enthusiastic that I immediately decided that I would pursue a doctoral degree once I had completed my master's studies. All my degrees are from the University of Sussex, but my doctoral dissertation took me to Italy for a year to study archival documents from the 16th century. I also received Marie Curie funding for working in Copenhagen, where I had the opportunity to carry out research and learn new methods. One of the skills I learnt was how fabric was woven in the 16th century.
Your project has been awarded a 2-million-euro grant by the European Research Council (ERC). What does succeeding in applying for research funding require?
I was familiar with the application process because I had applied for ERC funding once before. Succeeding requires a lot of preparation and developing your own thinking. I read the funding announcement very carefully and familiarised myself with what kinds of projects the funding was intended for and what was expected from applicants. When I was writing the application, I was meticulous and made sure that it met all the requirements. I also gave careful consideration to which panel I should send my application to. In the end, I decided to forget about the history panel and send my application to the cultural history and art panel. After the decision, I worked hard to define how my project would contribute to bringing something new to cultural history research. Application processes always challenge researchers to carefully think about their research work. You cannot stay in your comfort zone when you are applying for ERC funding: it is important to challenge yourself and demand a lot from yourself. You have to consider what is the area you want to have an impact on and where you want to make a scientific breakthrough. This thought process was a turning point in my career. Applicants prepare for their interview for months, and I must say that the interview was the highlight of my career. As I walked in front of the panellists as their equal, I felt happy, peaceful and calm. I liked their questions and the constructive feedback that challenged my thinking.
How does your research change society and help in finding a resolution to social problems?
History in general helps us understand how society, the relationships between people and our social and cultural systems function. My research provides tools for understanding fashion as a phenomenon and for identifying the underlying cultural and social meanings of fashion. Historical craft skills can also be used in modern applications of sustainable development.
Where do you get strength and inspiration for your research work?
In order to be productive, researchers need time and a sense of peacefulness. It is difficult to produce new ideas when the schedule is too busy. This is challenging for a professor. My solution is to escape from my everyday responsibilities from time to time. When I was writing my ERC application, I spent a month in Florence without my family. There I could fully focus on brainwork and writing the application. On normal working days, I try to leave the office relatively early. I get energy from yoga, working out and going for walks with my dog. I also enjoy good food, good wine and travelling.
Professor Paula Hohti has been awarded a 2-million-euro ERC Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). The five-year project, entitled Re-fashioning the Renaissance: Popular Groups, Fashion and the Material and Cultural Significance of Clothing in Europe, 1550–1650, will investigate the meaning and spread of western fashion in 17th century Europe.