Throughout this class, I have been reading Moran’s Interdisciplinarity somewhat religiously. Religiously, but, to be brutally honest, resentfully. I didn’t connect to what he was saying and thought he was making things too complicated in his discussion. I thought that he was taking decently simple ideas and turning them into ungraspable theories, or relying too heavily on historical context that I was immediately bored by. Then, I read the conclusion.
In the conclusion, Moran changes his form. Instead of examining interdisciplinarity from a historical standpoint, he examined it in practice. In doing so, he discussed how interdisciplinarity can “help people to think more creatively about the relationship between their own subject and other ways of doing things both within and outside universities” (165). This opened my eyes. I had been thinking of interdisciplinarity solely in regard to information or knowledge. In my mind, interdisciplinarity started and stopped at the ability to take classes from all ranges of disciplines or partaking in an intellectual experience that was different from that of one’s major. Instead, this newly formatted discussion made me realize that the idea of interdisciplinarity extends far beyond that.
Interdisciplinarity, when looked at in the way Moran discusses it in the conclusion, is like a web that connects different areas. I started thinking of a university, a metaphor that Moran utilizes in his discussion, as well. Interdisciplinarity can refer to connections between all parts of the university. It can be as if the head of mathematics at the university worked with the head of the english department to publish a new textbook, or if a biology professor needed the help of a history professor on a presentation on the history of evolution. Thinking about this idea in this context made it significantly more relatable to me and I grasped a better understanding for this concept that we’ve been exploring all semester. It made me realize that whenever I can’t fully understand something, I should try and connect its principle ideas to topics that directly correlate to my life. A good thing to realize the week before finals, maybe it’ll help me understand accounting before my big test.
While reading Moran’s Interdisciplinarity, I came across a sentence that made me immediately think of Zulus. On page 45, he states that “…the definition of ‘culture’ has been linked to questions about the cultural construction of identity and meaning , particularly in relation to the broader operations of power in society.” Now, this quote comes from the second chapter of his book and the chapter goes on to discuss and analyze the connection between literature in culture. I am not blind to the fact that there are many other noteworthy ideas in this chapter that I’m sure could also be connected back to the topic of our conversations lately, but this particular sentence was the only one that made my mind immediately jump to Zulus and for that I believe it to be post-worthy.
I began thinking about culture in general vs. the culture depicted in Zulus and its relationship with identity. In Zulus, being unique is a crime. Alice is perpetually paranoid of people looking at her for her weight, for people always stare since she does not look like everyone else. Furthermore, when Alice decides it is too dangerous to continue life as Alice, she decides she needs a new identity. The ease with which she acquires a new identity, that of Esther MacAree, depicts the disregard for identity and individualism in this society. No one cares who you are. All she did was look through an archive of people (a graveyard, to those who missed our class discussion) and find one that would have been around her age and take on that name. Since no one in society cares about identities, why would anyone bother to check that that one was her own?
In our society, kids are constantly preached at about individualism. “Own your identity,” “be yourself,” “there’s only one you!” are becoming the new Golden Rule for elementary school kids these days. We are becoming more and more (without getting into the debate over gender/sexuality/race acceptance all over the world, as those are very serious and important topics that I can not do justice to in this post) accepting of people as they are. Society, for the most part, is coming around to accepting various views and identities, and we are teaching the next generation to do the same on a larger scale, a polar opposite of the society in Zulus, where not only do they have a disregard for identity, but they do not even have a new generation to teach.
While there are many aspects of the society in Zulus that are opposite from ours, the disregard for individualism and identity as a whole was the one that I find the most fascinating. Moran’s discussion of identity and literature led me to a great deal of self-reflection and thought regarding identity in our own society, and an activity that helped put the differences between the two in perspective was this: close your eyes and try to imagine living in Zulus‘s society as an individual. Go ahead, try it.
Chapter 4 of Moran’s Interdisciplinarity discusses the relationship between history and literature. Upon reading this, I could not think of anything but Meridian. History has been a central theme through all of our class discussions and individual readings from start to finish in this book. Everything from the setting to the dialogue between characters is rooted in historical context, and I felt that Meridian served as a prime example of the relationship that Moran explores in this chapter of his book.
Everything about Meridian comes from its grounding in history. The book focuses on African-American’s and their relationship with their white peers, the revolution for equality, and general attitudes towards African-Americans from society as a whole. Taking place in the South in the 1960s, the book provides a lens through which to examine American society from the oppressed’s point of view. Walker writes of the growing up as a black American at this time, describing her coming to be a woman. It starts off by discussing her childhood, where she grew up in a house that her father believed was stolen from the Indian’s under a mother’s eye who was forever unimpressed with Meridian. It then moves on to Meridian as a school-age girl, and describes the course of action that took place for Meridian to become pregnant, and then the choice to give up her baby when the unimaginable opportunity for her to go to college arose. The historical context isn’t as prevalent in these beginning chapters of the novel as it is in the later ones, but throughout even these there is an underlying presence of society’s attitude toward African Americans.
Once Meridian is at college, the historical context really comes through. She becomes involved with a group on campus that is pro-active regarding the civil revolution, and there is a lot of discussion on the cruel treatment of revolutionists. She spends time in jail, is threatened with expulsion from school, and starts to gain her martyr-like reputation. She falls in love with a man, Truman, and the distinction between black and white females is depicted when Truman (a fellow black) leaves Meridian for white girls because, according to him, “they read the New York Times” (this emphasizes the ideas that white girls were more dignified or smarter, as those who read the paper were perceived as such). Meridian becomes even more involved with the revolution due to the involvement of her best friend, Anne, and the violence that was always a threat during the revolution is made clear through their disagreement over if Meridian would kill for the revolution, giving historical context into how bad times were for black Americans.
Toward the end of the book, the focus shifts to Truman and his white wife, Lynne, but the historical aspect does not change. The majority of the plot regarding the couple is focused on the fact that society does not accept their bi-racial relationship. Lynne is raped by a black man, one of Truman’s friends, in a rage-filled moment over the fact that he was shot for walking with Lynne since she is white and he is black. The sections of Meridian that focus on Truman and Lynne and their complicated relationship that only becomes more complex due to their contrasting races gives accurate historical insight into the attitude that races shouldn’t mix that was prevalent in America at this time.
The entirety of Meridian has its roots in history. The plot, in a whole, is the history of America and its views on African-American’s in the 1960s. Meridian serves as a prime example of the relationship that Moran discusses in his chapter of Interdisciplinarity regarding history and literature.
As an English double major, the most common question I am asked at family gatherings, advisor meetings with my Business Administration advisor, or even nosy friends of my parents is “What are you going to do with that?” The uncomfortable part about it, I never really know what my answer is.
“Within academia, disciplines are a form of common sense, allowing us to keep doing what we do without continually speculating about its purpose, limits, and ultimate worth” (Moran 75). I feel that this quote from Moran’s Interdisciplinarity sums up this internal conflict that forever plagues me well. Because I am an English major, I read all the plays, novels and haikus I can stuff into my brain without really speculating about its purpose or ultimate worth. A professor tells me to write a lyric essay? Sure. Read this play? No problem. I accept all of my assignments blindly, and enjoy the reading and writing that I do, but I never stop and question why I am doing this. I take my major for granted.
Moran speaks of theory in a unique way in chapter 3 of his book. He references that some people have argued that theory has no place in literary study. We are not scientists; we’re not speculating on the formation of the universe or the make up of an atom, therefore we do not have to rely on theories. We have the literature in front of us, we have concrete proof. However, Moran discusses theory as being concerned with the big questions of reality. He states that theorizing “offers a framework within which students and scholars can debate about these broad-ranging issues without getting too extensively mired with detailed arguments within disciplines” (75). For literary study, this definition is a key component.
Theorizing in literature allows for the questioning of big things outside of what is printed in black and white. We can analyze the historical context, the geographical impact, the state of mind of the characters, without running the risk of crossing over into other disciplines. This further analysis of literature IS that purpose and ultimate worth. Theorizing about the literature allows for further understanding and appreciation of the work. This appreciate is the ultimate worth that is the reason we endure all of the stigmas of being an English major for, the reason why I will stand to answer another “What in the world are you going to do with that?”
In chapter five of Moran’s Interdisciplinarity, he references a lecture given by C.P Snow entitled “The Two Culture and the Scientific Revolution.” He discusses how Snow argues that “the British education system exacerbated the situation by forcing pupils to specialize too early” (135). The situation that he is referring to is the divide between the sciences and the humanities.
His argument has merit. Since elementary school, my peers and I have been separated into distinctions: one was either a math/science kid or a language/history kid. I was the latter; I hated science and could never understand the point of calculating formulas that included imaginary numbers, but I was a good speller and liked to read, so boom: a language kid. This label made it so I never thought to venture out of my language comfort zone. I only took english and language AP classes and shuttered at the thought of having to take Pre-Calculus, and vowed to find a major that would allow me to bypass math and science for the entirety of my higher education, making me the antithesis of a math/science kid.
However, the introduction of these distinctions has been around since Bacon’s time. As Moran states, “Bacon attacked the orthodoxy of classical learning and argued instead that human beings and nature should be studied in themselves, without fixed preconceptions” (136). To my understanding, Bacon is stating that the disciplines should be studied without overlap, just like the idea that students must specialize into English distinctions or those of math and science.
This labeling of students is exactly the specialization that Snow is discussing. While I believe he takes his argument into an unnecessarily aggressive place, referring to literary intellectuals who disagreed with him as “…imbecile expressions of anti-social feelings” (135), his underlying idea is correct. By pushing students into these disciplines, society as a whole is creating pupils who feel as though they must pick a side. Personally, I haven’t met too many Chemistry and English double majors so far at school. Even my major combination, English and Business Administration, seems to throw people for a loop. How can I take a Lyric Essay class and a Business Law 1 lecture in the same semester when they are such different distinctions?
The answer is: they aren’t. Yes, the foundations behind English and math/science classes are very different. But there are so many parallels between the disciplines as wholes. As Moran discusses, the scientific method has been applied to analytical purposes in literature. The idea of empiricism, which Moran references repeatedly throughout the chapter is exactly this argument in its definition: the theory that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience.
The idea of interdisciplinarity in itself comes from the thought of breaking down the barriers between educational distinctions. To do this, educators must stop labeling and classifying students as those of either the humanities or the sciences. Once this stops, the narrow-mindedness of students will eventually fall away, creating interdisciplinarity throughout education.
Throughout this past week, many of my professors started the first day of class with the same question, “What did you do over the summer?” In years past, I have always had a very mundane response: I worked or maybe took a family vacation, nothing out of the ordinary. However, this summer I did something very out of my comfort zone and attended Field School for Archaeology through Geneseo’s Study Abroad program. For one month I lived in a tent and excavated land that was occupied by the Hopewell Indians between 1600 and 2100 years ago. Not shockingly, the next statement was always, “Oh, so you’re an anthropology major.”
You can imagine the confusion that overcame my professors when I explained that no, I am in fact not an anthropology major, but a double major in Business Administration and English. Everyone assumes that because I participated in a summer program that is in a specific discipline (anthropology), that I must want to be an anthropologist. People can not grasp the concept that I am interested in something that has absolutely nothing to do with my majors or future career paths. When I try to explain that I simply really enjoy the study of archaeology and wanted to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity, they get uncomfortable and smile and move on.
While reading Interdisciplinarity by Joe Moran, I was struck with the feeling that he was trying to describe how I feel every time someone questions why I would waste my time attending Field School when it is so outside of the disciplines I am studying. I agree with the critique of the academic disciplines that he references frequently, that they are limited and confining. I like the idea of interdisciplinarity, or at least how I understand it, that there should be more of a flow between the academic disciplines, creating an engagement between them. In my mind, the idea of interdisciplinary is like that of a liberal arts college, it allows a student to get a taste of every academic discipline to become a well rounded and cultured member of society.
My interdisciplinary adventure this summer allowed me to experience academics in a new way. Instead of studying from my Business Law textbook or analyzing the syntax in a poem I was plowing through dirt looking for variations in the plow zone and recording it in a archaeological journal. I learned just as much as I would have in a traditional semester class, if not more because I learned about myself by experiencing a world I was in no way a part of before. I learned leadership skills, since everyday a new member of the group was assigned to be in charge, skills that will help me in the world of business. I also took part in creative writing during my time there; we were expected to journal about our experiences throughout the trip, allowing me to work on my writing skills without being an English class. Learning these skills that are theoretically specific to distinct academic disciplines in a field that has nothing to do with them proves that the idea of interdisciplinarity is a valid one. This allows me to fully appreciate the idea of interdisciplinarity and the importance of it for all students.