“Interdisciplinary Approaches to Literature and Literary Approaches to Interdisciplinarity:” a Workshop in Humanist Inquiry

Hall Center Workshop

The Hall Center for the Humanities, another collaborative space within the University of Kansas, recently hosted an informal workshop entitled “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Literature and Literary Approaches to Interdisciplinarity,” organized by Jacob Rapp, a PhD candidate in KU’s department of Spanish and Portuguese. The event was part of an ongoing series of Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Workshops intended to bring emerging scholars from a range of fields within the humanities together to discuss thematic and methodological intersections and to identify larger intellectual currents that impact the broad spectrum of humanist inquiry.

This particular workshop fostered conversations that resonated deeply with ARC’s investment in experimental and experiential modes of research. Graduate scholars from geography, American studies, gender and womens’ studies, history, art history, and various fields of language and literature discussed traditional lines of distinction between the sciences and more interpretive approaches such as literary and visual analysis and developing strategies for breaking down these divisions while maintaining intellectual rigor. Participants explored ways to integrate experimental and hermeneutic approaches, a synthesis that has recently been exemplified in the work of literary scholar Franco Moretti, whose method of “distant reading” calls for moving outward from close textual analysis to consider broad historical patterns through statistical analyses and metadata mapping.

The workshop dialogue orbited around the competition between sociological and socio-historical analysis and literary or artistic interpretation, which manifests tensions between purported objectivity and recognized subjectivity that constitute some of the intellectual and practical disciplinary barriers that the ARC seeks to surmount. Workshop participants agreed upon the importance of expanding traditional Marxist and Structuralist constructions of works of art or literature as fixed cultural witnesses through acknowledgement that creative, inherently subjective mediation is a necessary facet of research in the arts and humanities.  Furthermore, the conversation alighted upon the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration as a means of incorporating expertise from a range of fields while avoiding the pitfalls of instrumentalization, or, in Rapp’s words, “other-disciplinarity.”

Times review of Franco Moretti’s work for the Stanford Literary Lab


Stanford Literary Lab


Art, Research and the Practice-led PhD

Art, Research and the Practice-led PhD

A growing trend in American universities is the Practice-led PhD. This is a research degree attained through practice. For the purposes of this blog post we mean art practice but there are many forms of practice that can be used for generating new knowledge and thus creating research. The idea of creating research through practice has been around for some time in programs at the Royal College of Art and Texas A&M. It wasn’t until the Bologna process began in 1999 that research through art practice began to gain some real impetus. James Elkins has done an extensive but not exhaustive amount of work on the history and development of the practice-led PhD that is useful for mapping out the fast moving changes of the degree. Ultimately questions surrounding the practice-led PhD are questions about practice-led artistic research and its value to the larger corpus of academic knowledge. Many in the academic art community, still smarting from the wars over the MFA, dismiss it as a further professionalization of artistic practice or another level of academic gatekeeping. I would argue that since the massive proliferation of art students, which started in the 1980’s, there has become a need for the expansion of academic art just as there has been an expansion of community based practices. Research through art then brings us to another issue; what knowledge is generated through practice? As pluralist art practices flourish each practice is potentially a source of new knowledge. Questions related to sociology could be answered through ceramic practices or distribution system problems could be answered through social practice. Like any other PhD, research questions must be formulated with the means of answering those questions in mind. The outcomes will then be scrutinized by the researcher’s peers in the academy, just like any other discipline. This does not mean that all practice-led research is good any more than all theoretical physics research is. The most salient point though is that the arts have something to contribute to the larger corpus of academic knowledge and now there are clearer means for that knowledge to be shared. Below you will find links to some writing about practice-led research.