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victorian review • Volume 33 Number 1 38 Works Cited Beer, Gillian. Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996 Dallas,W.S.“Contemporary Literature.” Westminster Review 69 (1858): 590–603. Eliot, George. Middlemarch. London: Everyman, 1997. Gallagher, Catherine.“Theoretical Answers to Interdisciplinary Questions or Interdisciplinary Answers toTheoretical Questions?” Victorian Studies 47.2 (2005): 253–59. Gould, Paula.“Essay Review. Listening to LostVoices.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29.3 (1998): 449–57. “The Improvisatore; or Life in Italy.” Quarterly Review 75 (1844–45): 497–518; 498. McGeachie, James.“Darwin and George Eliot: Plotting and Organicism.” History of Science 23.2 (1985): 187–200. Rowlinson, Matthew.“Theory ofVictorian Studies:Anachronism and Self-Reflexivity.” Victorian Studies 47.2 (2005): 241–52. Shires, Linda.“Victorian Studies and Cultural Studies: Interdisciplinarity, the Market and a Call for Critical Realism.” Victorian Literature and Culture 27 (1999): 481–86. • Institutional Memory: History, Disciplinarity, andVictorian Studies Ch r istopher Keep • Whether or not interdisciplinarity has a future in the teaching and research of scholars working in the field ofVictorian studies, it certainly has a history, one that merits more serious attention than it seems at present to receive. While concerns for the fragmentation of the different branches of learning into specialized areas of enquiry date back at least as far as Aristotle , it was only in the nineteenth century that the long-standing faith in the fundamental unity of human knowledge began to give way, undermined by both the proliferation of the applied and social sciences, and their institutional separation from other areas of study within the academy. Where previously philosophy had acted as a kind of meta-discipline, providing a means of integrating the various branches of learning, there now seemed no strict hierarchical order or organizing principle to what Kant described as the higher and lower faculties. Thus we find John Henry Newman, for example, lamenting the rise of “the men of information,” those who “embrace in their minds a vast multitude of ideas, but with little sensibility about their real relations towards each other” (121). For Newman, such men are not scholars in the strict sense, for they do not possess “the clear, calm, accurate vision and comprehension of all things” that is the mark of one who takes knowledge as its own end (124). Indeed, such is Newman’s distrust of the men of information that given a choice between an institution of higher learning that granted degrees to anyone who passed an examination in a set number of disciplines 39 Special Forum: Victorian Studies and Interdisciplinarity and one that had neither professors nor examinations “but merely brought a number of young men together for three or four years, and then sent them away,” he would prefer “that which did nothing, over that which exacted of its members an acquaintance with every science under the sun” (129). For Newman, then, the multiplication of narrowly defined disciplines within the academy results not in knowledge per se, but merely familiarity, a passing acquaintance with a variety of disparate and disconnected bodies of thought that masquerades as knowledge. The anxieties voiced in the nineteenth century about the proliferation of new disciplines within the university continue to structure contemporary debates concerning interdisciplinarity. Then as now, scholars lamented the tendency toward specialization and held out the hope that there might remain some means of rising above the specialized discourses (sometimes called “jargon”) and administrative procedures that insulate one branch of learning from the other, without thereby impoverishing one’s understanding, sacrificing depth for breadth. For the most part, the contemporary model of interdisciplinarity, however, has abjured the “philosophical” approach favoured by thinkers such as Newman, where scholars were enjoined to observe the organic unity, the interior organization and complex dynamism of the “tree” of knowledge. In its place has come one borrowed from cultural studies. Texts are placed in “contexts,” such as “Work and Poverty,” “The Place of Women in Society,” “Religion and Society,” and “Race, Empire, and a Wider World” (to take but some of the examples from a representative teaching text, The Broadview Anthology of British Literature). Literary texts are thus framed by materials drawn from a range of both “high...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 38-41
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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