Faculty to attend Mellon workshops

Faculty members will participate in a new round of workshops designed to discuss the teaching of undergraduate humanities courses this May as part of a broader focus on humanities-based education in Yale College.

In July, the University received a $1.95 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation intended to enrich its humanities teaching. Though the grant — which funds an interdisciplinary concentration in the graduate school, a program for post-doctoral students and the faculty workshops — does not directly fund undergraduate coursework, the first set of workshops held last June and August generated course proposals and recommendations for interdisciplinary teaching in the humanities that faculty and administrators aim to implement across Yale College, said Pamela Schirmeister, associate dean for Yale College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Schirmesiter said she hopes that conversation and collaboration will continue in May’s workshops, which will focus on utilizing Yale’s art and library collections in the classroom.

“The proposals we see in these workshops can be a way of bringing students who otherwise might not be interested into the discipline where they actually discover they really love it,” Schirmeister said. “If you create interest, [you] might end up educating people about something they didn’t know they were interested in.”

Schirmeister said she thinks that the upcoming workshops will offer faculty the opportunity to develop interdisciplinary courses that focus on current topics, such as technology or globalization. Interest in the humanities has been declining across the country in the last several decades, she said, and courses that are relevant to students’ lives might motivate them to explore new fields of knowledge that would be pertinent to them.

“Universities think of knowledge as a long term prospect, so we have departments in subjects that have been around for a long time and we think will be around for a long time,” Schirmeister said. “We might want to devote five to seven years of pulling people together to work on more immediate topics … this is a way of being flexible and supporting creation of new knowledge without creating structure you can’t get rid of.”

Following the first round of Mellon workshops, Yale College Dean Mary Miller called on the faculty to develop more team-taught courses that would cross disciplinary boundaries and expose students to new approaches to learning. Miller said the Course of Study Committee received multiple proposals for team-taught courses this year, though she added that the number of team-taught courses offered will not significantly increase for several years.

School of Management professor William Goetzmann said his class often uses materials from the Beinecke, such as 17th century bonds, “to get people excited about the development” of economic concepts. Goetzmann will also be co-teaching a course on rural finance with history professor Valerie Hansen next fall and he said he thinks the class will add a new dimension to students’ understanding of familiar topics.

The Mellon grant also funds an interdisciplinary concentration in the graduate school entitled “Technologies of Knowledge,” which recently selected its first cohort of students.

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