Reforming graduate education: Interdisciplinarity, multilingualism, openness

A common thread in the projects and proposals in this crucial conversation about reforming graduate education is a call for greater multi-disciplinarity in the humanities. Several writers seem to be thinking about disciplinarity in terms of language: they encourage humanities graduate students and scholars to learn not only the language of their own discipline, but also other languages, as well as the languages of computing, of institutions, and of copyright law. I wonder what this kind of collaboration across disciplines would look like.

In “Hacking Institutions,” David Parry issues a caution, reminding us that the language of the digital should radically change the way we imagine our disciplines: “If what the digital does is just take the old disciplines and make them digital, leaving disciplinarity and the silo structure of the University in tact, it will have failed. I want to see the digital transform not just the content or practice of the disciplines, but the very idea of disciplinarity.”

Russell Berman proposes another kind of linguistic openness—he suggests that knowledge of several languages offers a way to transfer humanities skills across many fields and applications. Bethany Nowviskie urges us to enlarge our vocabulary to pursue scholarship in dialogue with the public humanities, and with larger, public audiences. Perhaps as scholars we could open up our work not only to our peers earlier in our research process, but also to larger non-expert audiences. This might create a dialogic relationship between the humanities and other disciplines. Nowviskie offers an important rejoinder to Paul Jay and Gerald Graff, who suggest that a humanities education develops skills that are useful in non-academic work, but who leave out the possibility that the questions posed by the humanities could be of interest and importance outside the academy and to a wider community.

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