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“Radical Interdisciplinarity” Fosters Debate on Future of Collaborative Humanities

The need to make the humanities more “interdisciplinary” may sound familiar to academics, but what is less clear is what this type of research involves on a practical level. “Radical Interdisciplinarity,” an upcoming roundtable sponsored by the Davis Humanities Institute, considers this problem head-on, investigating the forms of humanities research taking place on campus under the banner of interdisciplinary work.

The roundtable brings together UC Davis faculty who themselves have begun to work in expanding the borders of the humanities into quantitative and scientific disciplines—spheres conventionally seen as distant and distinct from humanities scholarship. “Radical Interdisciplinarity” will be held on Thursday, May 16, from 3:10-5 p.m. in Voorhies 126. The roundtable is free and open to the public.

For the organizers of the event, “Radical Interdisciplinarity” is meant to move beyond generalities to dissect what this form of research really entails. Associate Professor of English and interim DHI Director Seeta Chaganti explained that “grants like the Mellon initiatives have allowed humanities faculty to collaborate with colleagues who exist at some distance from the scholarly communities within which we are used to conversing.”

Despite the increasing support for interdisciplinary approaches to humanities research, the notion of interdisciplinarity itself often remains vague. “It’s easy to champion the virtues of interdisciplinarity at an abstract level,” said Chaganti, “but surely interdisciplinarity of this kind also creates challenges, unexpected developments, tough questions about methodologies or even ethics, and perhaps even tougher questions about the impact of this kind of work on humanist endeavor.”

With such challenges in mind, the roundtable is intended to foster a critical debate on how this way of working influences humanist scholarship in the academy.

To this end, the roundtable brings together a group of faculty representing a range of approaches and disciplines within the context of the humanities at UC Davis. The event’s moderator, Associate Professor of English John Marx is currently at work re-evaluating the institutionalization of humanities as a discipline in the twentieth century.

In addition, the roundtable features: Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor, an associate professor of History whose work investigates the social economy of the U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries; Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli, an associate professor of Cinema and Technocultural Studies and co-director of the Mellon Research Initiative in Digital Cultures who studies violence across a wide array of texts and media; and Mike Ziser, an associate professor of English and co-director of the Mellon group in Environments and Societies whose research similarly pushes the scope of literary studies to include nonhuman nature in North American texts.

The roundtable will explore questions such as:

What challenges have these more capacious forms of interdisciplinarity presented to humanists?

What impact do these kinds of research initiatives have on the identity and goals of the humanities?

How do these new configurations reshape labor and professional outcomes for both faculty and graduate students?

In the face of these questions, the roundtable intends to consider the question of interdisciplinary research from all angles. The event will allow “faculty who have experienced these forms of research activity a chance to talk about them ” and “faculty in the roundtable’s audience a chance to express a broad variety of perspectives about interdisciplinary work,” according to Chaganti. “Radical Interdisciplinarity” promises to bring into view a picture of how this type of research plays out in the university today—and its role in shaping the future of academia as well.

This page was last updated: April 29, 2013



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