This past weekend was the NEMLA’s (Northeast Modern Language Association’s) Annual Convention. I was a presenter on a panel entitled, “Local Color Outside the Lines: American Literary Regionalism’s ‘Others.'” A few things made it a great panel. For one thing, there was a great mix of presentation topics that spanned time periods, genres, and methodologies.
Another aspect of that panel that unexpectedly worked out for the best was that we only had three audience members. Was this disappointing at first? Yes, a little bit. But this actually created an intimate atmosphere that allowed us to have more of an open, friendly discussion after the presentations rather than a standard Q&A session. We had a lot of good, constructive conversation together, and we also had some good laughs!
During the past academic year, I’ve been working in a variety of disciplines: English/literature, American studies, history, archaeology, anthropology, ethnohistory. and, connecting them all, digital humanities. Some of the toughest questions my oral exam committee asked me during the exam were broad, conceptual questions about how to bridge the differences between disciplines. With this in my mind, I attended this panel on interdisciplinarity.
The central question that the roundtable sought to answer was “How do we increase interdepartmental communication and collaboration?”. Here is a list of the answers we came up with:
- Incorporate people from other disciplines into literary conferences.
- Offer joint coursework or crosslisted courses, but not just between similar fields. Somebody gave an example of a university that offered a class that combined German with Engineering, and sent Engineering students to Germany to study Engineering while being immersed in the German language and culture.
- Find the “champions” in each department who are most likely to join an interdepartmental project. Librarians, because of their connections to all disciplines, are a good group of people to get involved with in order to access other faculty and students.
- Bring students who have already succeeded and benefited from your interdisciplinary idea to meetings with faculty or administration to whom you’re trying to sell that idea.
- Reach students in high school.
- Since it’s the deans who often make decisions about interdepartmental courses, projects, and funding, show them how it will be beneficial to them ($, marketing) to support your idea. Or, go in with a plan to utilize funding from an outside source so you aren’t a drain on the dean’s resources.
- Alumni can fund programs, connect current students with outside projects, serve as mentors, and get involved in class projects.
- Hold small seminars or readings groups with faculty from all different backgrounds.
- Create teaching awards that encourage or require interdisciplinary teaching.
- Create conference panels that are open to various disciplines.
- Utilize “cluster hires,” or faculty members whose job it is to teach in a “cluster” of disciplines.
- Finally, students can often serve as liaisons between departments and introduce faculty to one another. I have personally witnessed success with this strategy, as I’ve brought faculty from English and history together for research trips, meetings, and course collaboration.
NEMLA was a great experience- so much so that I’m going to spend my afternoon today writing up a panel proposal for next year’s conference (which will incorporate interdisciplinary for sure!).
I’ll wrap this post up by mentioning my amazing Sunday morning trip to Fort York in Toronto. It was the first European settlement in what is now Toronto, and it has a ton of history to it. The grounds and buildings are remarkably well preserved, and I recommend it to anybody who is interested in military history, military archaeology, military technology, the War of 1812, the fur trade, the “middle ground,” Anglo-American-Indian/First Nation relations, or human geography and ecology. Below are some pictures. Enjoy!