This working group will serve as an interdisciplinary forum to foster conversations about the historical and theoretical transformations in science, epistemology, and knowledge in Britain.
Students in the humanities working on science, epistemology, and knowledge inevitably engage in interdisciplinary work. Historians of science as well as literary scholars working on science have always been influenced by and drawn from the works in science studies, anthropology, analytical philosophy, and a range of other fields. Thus, “history of science” is no longer a monolithic subject under the purview of a single modern discipline. In spite of this, graduate students often construct their research projects focusing on a single topic in a single discipline. The lack of an interdisciplinary forum at Rutgers that interrogates these topics from the perspective of students’ research projects makes it harder for them to engage meaningfully in cross-disciplinary work in ways that can enhance the theoretical and methodological focus of their research. In order to provide a forum for students to formally engage in cross-disciplinary research, we would like to propose the formation of an interdisciplinary working-group that interrogates the study of science and epistemology in the humanities from the sixteenth-century to the present. The working group will examine various topics, including but not limited to literary, historical and philosophical engagements with science across a broad historical span, the relationships among epistemology, science, medicine and technology. While the working group will primarily focus on these developments in Britain, we will also examine how changes in the Continent and the development of scientific knowledge across the globe have and continue to transform our understanding of what constitutes objective knowledge.
Some of the questions the working-group will attempt to address: How has the study of “science” changed in the last 30 years in modern disciplines? How do different disciplines in the humanities uniquely complicate our understanding of scientific knowledge? Which epistemologies shaped the emergence of distinct disciplines within humanities and sciences? How do modes of knowing – certainty, probability, possibility, for example – enable the construction of scientific knowledge? What is elided when we term a method “scientific”? What happens to the techniques (like hypothesis) or particulars (like experiments) that become part of a probabilistic scientific method? How do other pre-modern and modern ways of knowing, such as prophecy or astrology, respond to or even resist newly authoritative epistemologies? How do standards of objectivity and truth, and the status of proof and verification, change from the sixteenth-century onward? How does the study of technology fit in with and historically change with shifts in the study of science?
The working group will help students develop their research projects by presenting them with various methodologies and theoretical frameworks of inquiry and also, more practically, provide a space to discuss and revise their ongoing work. It will also foster a community for discussion within the university, and allow members of the working-group to engage with leading scholars in their fields of interest.
Debapriya Sarkar (English), Brian Pietras (English), and Arthur Shockley (History)
Breakdown of plans:
The working group is seeking support from Spring 2011-Spring 2012. The expanded time-frame will allow the group to conduct a series of activities and organize events that address the diverse interests of its members.
- Reading Group and Internal Workshops: The reading-group will serve as the primary forum for the students’ development of their own topics of research, by providing them with other theoretical frameworks and by helping them revise their own ongoing writing projects. Each semester, we will meet as a reading-group twice to discuss issues and questions through a series of focused readings drawn from the fields of history, english, science studies and philosophy. While some of the readings will address canonical issues that drive the research on science across modern disciplines in the humanities, others will focus on more specific issues, related to the group members’ own interests. Each semester, this reading-group will workshop a dissertation chapter or a work-in-progress that a student is revising for publication.
- Invited Lectures and Workshops: Each semester, the group will invite one speaker, either for a lecture or to workshop a pre-circulated paper. The two different formats will enable students in the working-group to engage with the work of scholars at different stages of completion, and understand not only the content of these works but also engage with works-in-progress. Ideally, we will invite one historian, one literary scholar, and one philosopher, so as to explore the diverse range of approaches to the study of science in the humanities.
- Graduate Student Conference (Spring 2012): In the third semester, we would like to organize a graduate student conference, with a more focused theme, developed from the interests of the students in the working group. We will begin to plan this event after our first meeting in Spring 2011. For this event, we will invite a keynote speaker and organize graduate student panels, with participants from different disciplines outside as well as inside Rutgers.
May 2011 Update:
Natura is an interdisciplinary graduate student working group, funded by the Rutgers British Studies Center. The group consists of graduate students interested in science, epistemology, and technology, and has members from the departments of English, History, Art History, and Geography. We plan to circulate our event details to other departments in Rutgers and also to interested students in Princeton and Penn.
In Spring 2011, we have conducted three meetings:
- February 25: Introductory meeting. We primarily discussed potential speakers for the next three semesters, and addressed some of the methodological and theoretical questions we would like to raise as a group
- March 31: We conducted a conference paper and abstract workshop. The meeting was led by John Savarese, a 6th year graduate student in the English Department. John brought in various sample abstracts and we discussed some of the techniques of writing successful abstracts. Three students shared work-in-progress: an abstract, a conference paper (to be revised for other conferences or for publication), and a coursework paper (to be revised for a conference). We addressed issues specific to the papers, but also talked about the process of revision and rhetorical and argumentative strategies for writing conference papers.
- April 22: Tanya Sheehan (Asst. Professor in Art History) discussed her new book, Doctored: The Medicine of Photography in Nineteenth-Century America with the group. Ann Jurecic (Asst. professor, English) acted as a respondent. We discussed precirculated sections of Doctored, and then moved on to larger discussions of photographic method, photography and society, medicine, etc.
In Fall 2011, we hope to conduct three or four events again:
- October 10 (tentative): Alan Richardson (English, Boston University) who works on Literature, Cognition, and the Brain, has agreed to come and meet with the group. We are finalizing details of the format. The event will be cosponsored with the 18th Century group in the English Dept.
- December 1: We have invited Michael Witmore (Director, Folger Library) to come and conduct a discussion with the group.
- Student meetings: We are planning to conduct one or two internal meetings for students in the group to either share their current work or have a reading group meeting.
In Spring 2012, we hope to conduct the following events:
- Faculty-Student Roundtable: We plan to hold a roundtable discussion on “science and epistemology.” The participants will be faculty and advanced graduate students in various disciplines from within Rutgers, who will talk about their current work, and then we will open up for more general methodological questions.
- Graduate Student Conference: We would like to organize a graduate student conference on “Science and Method in the Humanities.” We wish to invite 2 plenary speakers, a historian and a literary scholar, for the event. STEH might co-sponsor the event.
- As in previous semesters, we will try to organize at least one internal workshop or discussion group meeting for students.
Fall 2012 Update:
Organizers for this year are: Lizzie Oldfather (English), Erin Kelly (English), A.J. Blandford (History), and Michael Hicks (Philosophy).
- We are planning to hold another roundtable on science, technology, and environment research at Rutgers and we will be holding graduate student workshops for our student members who have articles and dissertation chapters in progress.
- We're co-sponsoring a mini-conference in the fall called "The Feeling of Reading" on October 19th, along with the CCA and the 19th century studies graduate interest group.
- On March 1, 2013 "Science Fiction and Fictions of Science" will be a one-day graduate student conference on the intersections of science with fiction and narrative.