Chance and the Humanities
August 17, 2010 4:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for historic or documented examples of significant research discoveries that occurred as a product of serendipity–specifically in the humanities. Wikipedia's listing on serendipity primarily lists scientific examples. Surely serendipitous discovery occurs in the humanities. What are the best examples?
posted by Toekneesan to Education (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Would things like the Rosetta stone count? An accidental discovery it gave the key to something much, much bigger.

Manuscripts are also sometimes found in unexpected places, by people looking for other things - for example, a lost Byrom manuscript found in routine archive work.

One of the iron age souterrains on Orkney was found when the ground gave way below some farm machinery - I'm not sure if farming counts as looking for something else.
posted by Coobeastie at 5:19 AM on August 17, 2010

Well, there is this current news item.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:28 AM on August 17, 2010

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found by a Bedouin shepherd while he was herding his sheep.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:32 AM on August 17, 2010

William James (brother of Henry) had a profound experience while hiking in the Adirondacks that he couldn't explain, leading him to privilege experience (rather than origin) in his work on the religious and spiritual aspects of human life.
posted by jardinier at 8:11 AM on August 17, 2010

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