The Institutional Setting

Over the past three decades, Washington University has excelled by encouraging integrated programs of study in the humanities and social sciences at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Programs of teaching and research have been created at those points of intellectual contact among the disciplines where traditional fields can most fruitfully speak to and instruct one another. We have seen new programs in Data Science in the Humanities, Medical Humanities, American Culture Studies, African and Afro-American Studies, Biomedical Science, East Asian Studies, Environmental Studies, International Studies, Literature & History, Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology, Political Economy, Social Thought & Analysis, and Space Science. In each program, the newly modeled field of inquiry draws strength from the recruitment of techniques and information from across fields and from the interaction of — and friction between – one mode of inquiry and another.

At present, Arts & Sciences supports 17 interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary programs that build on our 23 traditional departments. The impact of such programs is felt in all of our instructional activities, perhaps most dramatically at the level of graduate teaching and research in the humanities, that part of American university life traditionally most cautious in responding to the kind of collaborative and cooperative research and teaching long a hallmark of the social sciences and of the natural sciences, where the laboratory and the research group are natural sites for collaborative intellectual work. At Washington University the spur to interdisciplinary work at the graduate level has been a group of initiatives out of the History and English departments that have encouraged our Ph.D. students to cross traditional departmental lines in their classes and seminars, in their dissertation supervision, and in the informal dissertation seminars that have grouped Ph.D. students less by department than by intellectual field across English, History, Art History, Music, Philosophy, and the foreign languages and literatures. These efforts have been fostered internally by the Graduate School and externally by the Mellon Foundation in the Dissertation Seminar program; we see the postdoctoral program, Modeling Interdisciplinary Inquiry, as the logical development of our work as both an undergraduate and graduate institution.