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2015-2016 Research Theme:

Interdisciplinarity in Historical Perspective

People working in today’s universities frequently emphasize innovative interdisciplinary scholarship, but they often forget that it is the disciplines themselves that are innovations—that it is only from a modern perspective that “arts” and “sciences” are discrete categories. Writers, artists, scientists, and philosophers from earlier periods took interdisciplinarity for granted in ways that seem almost impossible now, from Leonardo da Vinci’s stunning drawings of birds and flying machines to Sir Francis Bacon’s utopian fiction about the institutionalization of experimental science, the “New Atlantis.” This lecture series highlights the foundational connections among natural science, philosophy, arts and letters in early modernity. We also raise the question of how and why these fields diverged: when did natural philosophy forget its philosophical roots? When were the humanities imagined as distinct from experimental sciences? When did poetry part company with physics?

Supported by a generous grant from the Provost’s “Year of the Humanities in the University,” our collaborative research group will sponsor a series of reading groups, seminars, and lectures on this theme.

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