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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.

Upcoming Events




J. Allan Mitchell (University of Victoria)

Graduate/Faculty Workshop: "Notes Toward a Play Ecology" - Cathedral of Learning, 512, 1:00-3:00 PM

J Allan Mitchell Workshop PDF

Public Lecture: "Unbecoming Human: The Matter of the Medieval Child" - Cathedral of Learning, G24, 4:00 PM

J Allan Mitchell Talk Flyer

Dr. J. Allan Mitchell is an Associate Professor at the University of Victoria. In his book, Becoming Human: The Matter of the Medieval Child (2014), Mitchell argues that the problem of “being human” is fundamentally inflected by the project of “becoming human,” both individually and collectively. Engaging writing and material practices related to ecology, play, medicine, and science, he traces how human identity was articulated “across a wide range of textual, visual, and artifactual assemblages surrounding childhood from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries.” Mitchell’s work offers meaningful conjectures about how these pre-Enlightenment versions of humanity and not-quite-humanity speak to ongoing concerns about the future of both the humanities and humanity. He writes, “[W]hy should anyone take an interest in early and seemingly outmoded social practices, quasi-scientific theories, and low-tech developments from the Middle Ages? . . . In response to rapid technological changes, planetary ecological crises, and a sense of the ethical and political bankruptcy of traditional forms of humanism, thinkers today are increasingly worried about our collective fate . . . And so we can begin to ask, are there historical precedents for the present impasse?” Mitchell suggests that engagement with the versions of humanity represented in writings on medieval childhood represents an important opportunity for those in the humanities to continue the work of rethinking the humanistic endeavor.

Cosponsored by the Children's Literature Program and the Provost’s “Year of the Humanities in the University".


Laura J. Snyder
(St. John's University)

Public Lecture: “Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing”
Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - University Club Ballroom B, 5:00 PM

Workshop: “Writing Intellectual Biographies: Bringing Thinkers and Their Ideas to Life”
Wednesday, November 11, 2015, 12:30 - Cathedral of Learning, Room 602

Laura J. Snyder is a historian, philosopher, and science writer. Oliver Sacks has called her “both a masterly scholar and a powerful storyteller.” Snyder is the author of Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek and the Reinvention of Seeing, as well asThe Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World, which was an official selection of the TED Book Club, a Scientific American Notable Book, and winner of the Royal Institution of Australia’s 2011 poll for “Best Science Book.” She is also the author of Reforming Philosophy: A Victorian Debate on Science and Society. She writes for the Wall Street Journal and other publications and is a professor at St. John’s University. Snyder’s TED Talk on the Philosophical Breakfast Club has been viewed over one million times.

The events are supported by Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the Year of the Humanities, Humanities Center, and History and Philosophy of Science.