Sciences and humanities converge through new program

The recently announced Franke Program in Science and the Humanities will be established through the Whitney Humanities Center
The recently announced Franke Program in Science and the Humanities will be established through the Whitney Humanities Center Photo by Hoon Pyo Jeon.

A program recently established through the Whitney Humanities Center aims to bridge the divide between scientists and humanists.

The Franke Program in Science and the Humanities will sponsor public lectures and discussions that integrate knowledge from the sciences and the humanities. Richard Franke ’53, who will fund the program along with his wife Barbara, said he hopes the program will encourage students and faculty members to consider how fields of study across the University can reveal additional insights into their academic work.

“What we hope happens when a person comes to a university is that they are able to have a course of studies at the end of which he or she is on the right road to be an educated person,” Franke said. “It would be a shame if a person came to a university like Yale and is simply isolated by the demands of the degree and specialization, not exposed to different ways of thinking.”

Franke, a former chairman and CEO of the investment banking firm John Nuveen & Co. Inc. and the recipient of the 1997 National Humanities Medal, said in addition to creating new events, the program will bring together existing Yale programs that already combine the two disciplines.

As one of its first initiatives, the program has incorporated the Shulman Seminars, which were established in 2007. This year’s Shulman Seminar, taught by music professor Gary Tomlinson, is titled “Music and Human Evolution.”

After Franke initially approached University President Richard Levin with the idea for the program, Franke formed an investigative committee comprising roughly 10 faculty members from both the humanities and sciences, and Levin officially approved the program last fall. Levin appointed Richard Prum, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who is currently on sabbatical in Spain, to lead the program as its first director.

“This initiative promotes dynamic thinking at the juncture of two interdependent systems of thought,” Levin wrote in an email to members of the faculty, deans and directors. “[The initiative] recognizes that the fundamental questions that engage humanists must be informed by basic insights of science, just as meaningful scientific inquiry depends on humanistic knowledge.”

William Sledge, a former master of Calhoun College and psychiatry professor at the School of Medicine who served on the program’s executive committee in its early stages, said the program faces the challenge of encouraging professors in different fields to collaborate, which can be difficult in part because members of the Yale community are often confined within the boundaries of their own departments. He added that scholars must try to understand and speak the same conceptual language, as participants have varying degrees of awareness of other disciplines.

“Whenever two or more disciplines come together, there is always the challenge of different methods with different cultures and foci,” Sledge said.

Franke previously served as senior fellow of the Yale Corporation and on the University of Chicago Board.

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