The Interdisciplinary Model: The Dissertation Seminar

Crucial to recent initiatives in the humanities has been the support of the Mellon Foundation, which helped us develop a series of seminars for dissertation students in the humanities. These seminars have been designed to promote interdisciplinary research and teaching at the most advanced – and the most formative – stage of the graduate career. We have shaped the seminars to encourage students to see the interdependence of intellectual work across the humanities and social sciences and to understand the importance and the vitality of an integrated model of teaching and research.

The initial seminars addressed the early modern period — “Literary Culture and the Problems of Partisanship: The Early Modern Period in England” (summer 1996) and “Politics, Material Culture, and Intellectual Production in the Early Modern Period” (summer 1998) — and proved widely appealing. We have now extended this program beyond the early modern focus to include seminars on the Americas, on the relations between modern European intellectual history and culture, East Asian culture and society, and the transatlantic community.

We believe that such an approach will strengthen the way students conceive future research and how they work through the challenges of teaching and collegial service at the university. The results from our seminar program have been very encouraging: in enriching individual dissertations, in fostering collaboration among graduate students in different programs, and in promoting conversations and projects beyond the summer seminars into the academic year. What we have in mind is particularly well exemplified by the recent proposal by several members of our last Mellon Dissertation Seminar to the annual fall conference of the Group for Early Modern Cultural Studies; they have participated in the meeting with a panel they have called, “Conspicuous Consumption and the Politics of Rituals and Things in the Early Modern Period.” The dissertation seminars have become a vibrant part of the broader culture of interdisciplinary study and research at Washington University.