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Panel on Interdisciplinary Research

Notes towards a Panel on
Interdisciplinary Research
Bryn Mawr College
November 24, 2008

Laboring in the Cultural Commons

“It takes a capacious mind to play host to…others and to find new ways to combine what they have to offer....a mind willing to be taught, willing to be inhabited, willing to labor in the cultural commons.”

(Lewis Hyde, speaking from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet
and Society, in What Is Art For?, NYTimes Magazine, Nov. 14, 2008)

The role of the web

(An Attempt to Create a)
Tree of Academics Around the World

I. How I got here:
a child who loved to read, where there was no reading culture:
books as entry into other larger worlds than the one we inhabited

in college: the world opened up for me into a maze of texts
(to speak of 1, needed to read 'em all)

II. grad work in English @ Penn:
Larry Ziff's work on literature as an index to history
(my dissertation on popular sensational novels,
aesthetic patterns as a study in social dynamics)

but eventually bored with tiny project, small audience:
How had I dug myself into such a deep, narrow hole?
What happened to the exhilarating sense of expanse?

early publications very conventional:
recuperating neglected texts; expanding the canon
(a democratic project, but conventional literary methodologies)

III. Interdisciplinary conversations @ BMC:
"an undergraduate generalist"
"The Play of Interpretation" (Philosophy, Poli Sci)
Cultural Studies Reading Group (History, Philosophy)

Feminist and Gender Studies
working with social scientists, then scientists;
recovering the excitement of my undergrad work
(and getting a belated science education)

IV. Interdisciplinary teaching
Gender Studies courses:
Knowing the Body:
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Sex and Gender

Playing with Categories:
Re-doing the Politics of Sex and Gender

Gender and Science:
Re-envisioning and Revising the Relation

College Seminars:
Food for Thought: The Omnivore's Dilemma

Storytelling as Inquiry: Questions, Intuitions, Revisions

Upper-level cross-listed courses:
Biology/English 223:
The Story of Evolution/The Evolution of Stories

Computer Science/English 257: Gender and Technology

V. all of that led, finally, to collaborative writing

the first of these essays were about teaching:
"Three Dimensional Story Telling:
An Exploration of Teaching Reading, Writing, and Beyond."

Journal of Teaching Writing 23 (1): 91-114.

Center for Science in Society discussion groups
publish special issues of academic journals
(Bryn Mawr Now, May 13, 2008)

4 Current projects:
--with an educational theorist on "Teaching Intersections:
Constructing a Community of Teachers at the
Crossroads of Intention and Interaction"

--with a biologist on "Changing Science Pedagogy:
Beyond the Quest for Certainty"
(under review with the Journal of Science Teacher Education)

--with a(nother) biologist on "The Evolution of Literature"

--with my (recent! ex!) therapist on "The Problem of an Ending"
(how do psychoanalysts talk about termination?
how do lit crits talk about shaping an ending, aesthetically?
what can they learn from and teach one another?)

VI. what it's like: you get
  • built-in audience with same investment in project
  • the advantage of difference-->
"Each of our eyes provides a slightly different view of the same scene and together they give us stereoscopic depth perception, enable us better to see three dimensions. Receiving the perspective of two disciplines, like processing signals from both a right and a left eye, results not in shallow vision but in seeing more deeply." (Teaching to Learn/Learning to Teach)
  • complexity of scheduling/dance of editing, but....

  • also of outcome
a student's description: Reading this essay made me think about how collaborative this was. It seemed like a partial answer to [the] challenge to create a...compassionate, commited, collaborative, concurrent and community-generated education. Perhaps by collaborating across disciplines we can create a diverse enough community to answer the problems of singular disciplines in educating students.