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    September 7, 2006
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Temple Center Promotes Cross-Discipline Learning

Chinese, Vietnamese, African and Native-American artifacts in pristine glass cases line the hallways of the Center for the Humanities at Temple. Like the office they decorate, the objects — on loan from the anthropology department — are strikingly different, yet inherently related. CHAT is the hub where scholars from across the University gather to learn from and share research with their colleagues. Here, historians talk freely with philosophers, English professors with political scientists, sociologists with anthropologists.

At its heart, CHAT illustrates one very important fact: The rule of academic isolation has gone the way of the horse-drawn carriage, and now interdisciplinarity is king. The goal, said CHAT director Richard Immerman, is to break down barriers so that scholars can benefit from the wisdom of their peers.

“In the days before CHAT,” said Immerman, “the left hand literally didn’t know what the right hand was doing. I can’t exaggerate how exciting it is to do something that we’ve never done at Temple before.”

             

CHAT, which is entering its third year, hosts a number of events each semester designed to encourage interdisciplinary encounters. Events range from faculty-led, bi-monthly brown-bag colloquia — appropriately known as CHATs — and lectures, to major conferences, to year-long seminar series. Participants include Temple faculty members and graduate students, as well as professors from other major U.S. universities.

Cornell West
Last year, world-renowned scholar and Princeton religion
professor Cornel West came to Temple to participate in the Black Civil Society in American Political Life conference, hosted by The Center for the Humanities at Temple.
(Photo by Joseph V. Labolito / University Photography)

Last year, CHAT hosted or co-hosted more than 50 on-campus events, including a lecture from Philadelphia architecture maven Inga Saffron; a conference on “Black Civil Society in American Political Life,” featuring Cornel West; and a CHAT led by history professor Bryant Simon, titled “Up-Close in the Flat Word: A Case of Malay Teens and Starbucks in Singapore.”

             

This year, said Immerman, plans are in motion to launch an annual seminar called “Culture, Capital, and the Making of the New India,” as Temple is home to a number of business, history, communications and geography professors who specialize in the region.

“This is incredibly important, because as a student of international relations, I consider South Asia to be arguably the most significant region going forward into the 21st century,” said Immerman.

Also on tap for the academic year is a series of conferences that fall under a single theme: reproductions. The theme, chosen by members of CHAT’s 19th-century study group, will be broken down into four separate events, titled “Light,” “Evolution,” “Birth” and “Performance.” Participants — who come from across the country — can focus on themes ranging from photography to gender, said Immerman.

The center also financially supports two graduate fellows who teach interdisciplinary courses that evolve from their research, another group of graduate fellows — who must meet once a month to share their research with their peers — and four faculty fellows who present their research during the year. This year, the faculty fellows are Lawrence Venuti, English; Michelle Byng, sociology; Joe Schwartz, political science; and Shelley Wilcox, philosophy.

In addition, CHAT has been charged with overseeing the Iris and Gene Rotberg Undergraduate Research Humanities Award, which is given to an undergraduate student who serves as a faculty research assistant.

“There’s never been anything like this in the liberal arts,” said Immerman of the $5,000 award. “The undergraduates get experience doing real research projects; they aren’t just making copies. In the sciences, this happens all the time — someone has a lab and student — but we haven’t had many opportunities to do this until now. It’s just another innovation moving [CLA] in a positive direction.”

Immerman, a historian who specializes in diplomacy, is the product of interdisciplinary training. After receiving his doctorate from Boston College, he received a McArthur Foundation Fellowship to study a discipline other than his own; he chose psychology. He is the author of a contributing essay on the merger of history and psychology in the book Explaining the History of U.S. Foreign Relations.

Immerman believes that the opportunity to learn from one’s colleagues, no matter what the discipline, is an indispensable part of academia. He said that interdisciplinary exchange has three major benefits.

“It’s intellectually stimulating, you make interdepartmental connections, and you learn different ways of creating knowledge,” Immerman said. “And that’s what our profession is all about.”

For more information about CHAT or to see a schedule of events, visit www.temple.edu/humanities.

Alix Gerz                                                                

 

 


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