Interdisciplinarity in the Twentieth Century
SSRC ITEMS Insights from Social Sciences article by Harvey Graff
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Interdisciplinarity—or the interrelationships among distinct fields, disciplines, or branches of knowledge in pursuit of new answers to pressing problems—is one of the most contested topics in higher education today. Some see it as a way to break down the silos of academic departments and foster creative interchange, while others view it as a destructive force that will diminish academic quality and destroy the university as we know it. In Undisciplining Knowledge, acclaimed scholar Harvey J. Graff presents readers with the first comparative and critical history of interdisciplinary initiatives in the modern university. Arranged chronologically, the book tells the engaging story of how various academic fields both embraced and fought off efforts to share knowledge with other scholars. It is a story of myths, exaggerations, and misunderstandings, on all sides.
Touching on a wide variety of disciplines—including genetic biology, sociology, the humanities, communications, social relations, operations research, cognitive science, materials science, nanotechnology, cultural studies, literacy studies, and biosciences—the book examines the ideals, theories, and practices of interdisciplinarity through comparative case studies. Graff interweaves this narrative with a social, institutional, and intellectual history of interdisciplinary efforts over the 140 years of the modern university, focusing on both its implementation and evolution while exploring substantial differences in definitions, goals, institutional locations, and modes of organization across different areas of focus.
Scholars across the disciplines, specialists in higher education, administrators, and interested readers will find the book’s multiple perspectives and practical advice on building and operating—and avoiding fallacies and errors—in interdisciplinary research and education invaluable.