Conference: "Employing Interdisciplinarity: Early Modern Legacies, Future Challenges"

(part of a series)

Location: University of Notre Dame (View on map )

This conference takes aim at one of the academy’s most coveted buzzwords. Where in fact does the fascination with interdisciplinarity come from, and why does it matter so much today?

Faithful subscribers to the Oxford English Dictionary know not always to take its dates for the earliest word-use as rigorous historical claims, yet in the case of “interdisciplinarity,” the situation is rather clear: no such word seems to have been needed before the 1930s. Today, the neologism poses job-seeking graduate students chronic problems, as they struggle to articulate before the job market what it is about their work that is “interdisciplinary.” The answer is obvious enough for trained early modernists – the multifacetedness of any early modern topic forces a scholar to overstep disciplinary boundaries, often resulting in methodologies, conclusions, and publications that seem eclectic or eccentric to concerned colleagues. Yet that very obviousness often gets in the way of a clear and compelling explanation. My interdisciplinarity, a job-candidate might find themselves hearing from a senior scholar, is not your interdisciplinarity.

In addition to standing professional concerns, an intellectual and historical paradox remains: in order to describe and legitimate one’s scholarly work as interdisciplinary, an early modernist has to import a notion of disciplines and of their boundaries that simply did not apply to the early modern period. Indeed, the modern term belies the very holistic nature of the pursuit of knowledge as it was then understood. “Interdisciplinarity” would not have made sense to a Leonardo Da Vinci, to a Francis Bacon, or to an Isaac Newton, let alone to the many non-male, non-Christian, non-white, lower-class or otherwise marginalized minorities on the periphery of traditional accounts of the rise of disciplines. Barred from access to universities where disciplines were only just beginning to take shape, these motley contributors to the growth and mixture of knowledge have been too carelessly exempt from our accounts of how “interdisciplinarity” became a possibility and a goal.

In brief, as early modernists today work to remedy these omissions and make better sense of modern Europe’s intellectual development, how should they understand and employ the term?

For more details and the full schedule, visit the conference website.


The conference organizers wish to express their deepest thanks to the following departments, programs, institutes, and individuals for their generosity and support:

The Center for Italian Studies
The Crown-Minow Endowment for Jewish Studies
The Department of English
The Department of History
The Early Modern Seminar

The English Graduate Student Association
The Hesburgh Library Rare Books and Special Collections
The Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts
The Medieval Institute
The Nanovic Institute for European Studies

The Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship
The Office of Digital Learning
The Program of History and Philosophy of Science
The Program of Gender Studies
Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, CSC, Professor of the Humanities Stephen Fallon
McMeel Family Chair in Shakespeare Studies Peter Holland
George N. Shuster Professor of English Literature Laura Knoppers

A special thank you also goes out to Alissa DorohLaura Knoppers, Peter Holland, Monica Caro, Melanie Webb, and Jenn Lechtanski for their invaluable logistical help putting the conference together.