[Humanist] 23.322 claiming interdisciplinarity

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Sep 27 08:50:17 CEST 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 322.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Gerry Coulter <gcoulter at ubishops.ca>                       (8)
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 23.320 claiming interdisciplinarity

  [2]   From:    Sterling Fluharty <phdinhistory at gmail.com>               (162)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.320 claiming interdisciplinarity

        Date: Sat, 26 Sep 2009 10:07:35 -0400
        From: Gerry Coulter <gcoulter at ubishops.ca>
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 23.320 claiming interdisciplinarity

Re:  claiming interdisciplinarity

It has always been an odd and somewhat useless term as most if not all research is driven by questions which may be claimed by many disciplines. "Discipline" now there's an interesting word to describe academe. Perhaps, given the police-like qualities of many who like the concept "discipline(s)" we may come to look upon "interdisciplinary" as a kind of academic INTERPOL

        Date: Sat, 26 Sep 2009 08:40:27 -0600
        From: Sterling Fluharty <phdinhistory at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.320 claiming interdisciplinarity
        In-Reply-To: <20090926074706.10CB33B0D4 at woodward.joyent.us>


This article provides a useful interview, particularly the section titled


What appears below are my own thoughts mixed in with what you will find in
the above link.

I agree that a lot of scholars claim their work is interdisciplinary, often
because they are trying to boost the status of their discipline and win the
favor of deans and other administrators who control the purse strings in
higher education.  More often than not this results in the kind of cosmetic
interdisciplinary work we are all familiar with, where scholars exploit a
few methods from closely-related discipline to improve their own scholarship
and serve the interests of their home discipline.  Unfortunately, some
observers fail to notice that serious interdisciplinary work does happen
when teams tackle some of the most complex human problems.  In those cases,
team members must be fluent in more than one discipline, able to translate
between disciplinary perspectives, and committed to creating new knowledge
that any one discipline on its own could produce.  The methodologies
developed within Bioinformatics stand out as a good example of this process
in recent history.

The unfortunate truth is that traditional disciplines frequently become
jealous when a certain sector of interdisciplinary work begins to outstrip
the birthing disciplines in terms of producing valuable knowledge and
cutting edge research.  Particularly during times of recession, the
traditional disciplines will claim they deserve the majority of available
funding because of the numbers of students taking their courses and
therefore they lobby for funding cuts in interdisciplinary programs.  Some
interdisciplinary fields survive this competition by carving out a
nonthreatening existence on the margins of the existing disciplines.
Others, like Bioinformatics and Neuroscience, succeed at navigating the
politics of higher education and become new disciplines so that they can
control funding and faculty appointments.

What remains to be seen is what path the digital humanities will take.  Will
our appropriation of methodologies from other disciplines facilitate work
that is interdisciplinary in name only?  Will some digital humanists obtain
an additional degree in computer science and join truly interdisciplinary
teams?  At what point will traditional humanists feel threatened by the new
methodologies and new kinds of knowledge coming out of the best work in the
digital humanities?  Now that the digital humanities have their own office
in the NEH, how long will it take for traditional humanists to become
jealous of their success?  Will traditional humanists reassert themselves,
for the sake of protecting department budgets that serve student needs, and
oppose increased funding for work in the digital humanities?  And if the
history of higher education offers any prediction of what will happen, will
digital humanists be forced to form their own discipline?  Or will any
attempt at disciplinary genesis for the digital humanities fail because the
range of practitioners in the field represent vastly different home
disciplines, unlike in the above examples where scholars needed to bridge
the differences between only a couple of disciplines?

Best wishes,
Sterling Fluharty
University of New Mexico

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