July 17, 2013 – Photos for Humanities postcard in the East Asian Library Photos by James Byard

The second crucial component for Modeling Interdisciplinary Inquiry is a theory and methodology seminar run collaboratively by the postdoctoral fellows in the spring semester. That collaboration will be enriched by the conversations among postdoctoral fellows and by their interactions with mentors and other faculty involved in the postdoctoral program. The aim of the Theory and Methods seminar is to raise questions and address problems that face all of us involved in interdisciplinary research and teaching. These questions will rise out of particular research problems and teaching experiences, but our aim is to generalize these issues so that the postdoctoral fellows and our own students might join together to address such problems as the evolution of academic disciplines or the nature of historical methods.

Core readings in theory and methods provide some of the common ground for each seminar, while discussion of current and on-going projects enables the practical interrogation of such widely shared concerns as the nature of evidence, the problems of language in a post-deconstructive world, and the role of theory in guiding empirical research. Our own experience in the Mellon Dissertation Seminars and in the Theory and Methods seminars of the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities, the Humanities Digital Workshop, and the Vertical Seminar in Intellectual History, have balanced theoretical discussion with case study, has proven valuable in guiding the evolution of the Theory and Methods Seminar for the Modeling Interdisciplinary Inquiry. Inevitably, this seminar takes on a life of its own, as it is informed by the research interests and teaching experience of the individual members of the seminar.

Running such a seminar is a challenging and important experience for the postdoctoral fellows and invaluable for the own students who join in this effort. There has been much discussion of the role of theory in contemporary literary and cultural studies programs both on this campus and in other universities, and there have been individual efforts to join in that discussion — in German, Comparative Literature, History, IPH and in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies — but there has been no sustained effort at Washington University to have our graduate students address the issues of theory and method as a group and across the humanities and the social sciences. The Theory and Methods Seminar will provide such an occasion for the postdoctoral fellows and for our own graduate students and faculty.