On Monday, 12 graduate students from eight different departments who were admitted to the interdisciplinary Mellon concentration assembled for the program’s inaugural meeting.
The year-long concentration, designed for students in their third year of doctoral study, was announced in October after the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the University $1.95 million to enhance humanities education. Admitted students receive an additional year of funding beyond the typical five-year funding package to pursue interdisciplinary research and are enrolled in a two-semester core seminar entitled, “Technologies of Knowledge.” Associate Dean of the Graduate School Pamela Schirmeister ’80 GRD ’88, who is the director of graduate studies for the Mellon concentration, said the students and professors will spend the semester finalizing the format of the program, which will officially begin next fall.
“Sometimes institutional constraints do not encourage students to challenge the borders of their discipline,” said film and humanities professor Francesco Casetti, who will co-teach the core seminar. “What we want was not to subvert specific fields but to provide opportunities for a group of students to challenge themselves to take a new look at their own discipline.”
The concentration is part of a larger effort by the University to use the Mellon grant to “reimagine” the ways students and professors approach the humanities. The core seminar, which will be taught by Casetti, classics professor Emily Greenwood and philosophy and psychology professor Tamar Gendler ’87, aims to study different techniques for disseminating knowledge such as writing systems, higher education, film and digital media.
Casetti said the class is designed to help students discover the roots of the humanities by identifying how the various fields interact, adding that he hopes this process of reflection will continue beyond the one-year program.
Students in the first cohort, who come from departments including architecture, Italian and classics, said they think the concentration will help them within their own field and later on the job market.
“This is a good way to rethink the canon in our fields and how that canon interacts with other tools of learning,” said Luca Peretti GRD ’17, who is studying Italian. “This is a chance to be with 11 fellow graduate students to reconsider what we do here and what we will hopefully do as scholars.”
Stephen Krewson GRD ’17 said the class design will also expose students to different approaches to teaching the humanities, such as integrating film and music into a class curriculum, and that these new techniques will be helpful in their future careers. He added that being conversant in other humanities disciplines will also help students looking for a teaching position upon graduation.
Students enrolled in the concentration also said they think it will allow them to take advantage of the resources and research methods of disciplines other than their own.
The Mellon grant also funds a program for post-doctoral students and a series of 10 faculty workshops to assess strategies for teaching the humanities throughout the University.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation also provided a 2010 grant to fund the Interdisciplinary Performance Studies at Yale initiative.