“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


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