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41 Special Forum: Victorian Studies and Interdisciplinarity Longman Anthology of British Literature: Volume 2B: The Victorian Age.Third Edition. Ed. David Damrosch et al. NewYork: Longman, 2006. Maurice, F. D. Has the Church or the State the Power to Educate the Nation? London: n.p., 1839. Newman, John Henry. The Idea of a University.1852. Ed. I.T. Ker. Oxford: Clarendon, 1976. Seeley, John.“English in Schools.” Macmillan’s Magazine 17 (1868): 75–86. • Interdisciplinarity and Evolution: Victorian Studies as Ancestor Clau dia N elson • Within the humanities, and perhaps particularly within literature departments, the noun “studies” has for decades signalled a desire to privilege an organizational approach that was not widely used when the coiners of the term“[…] studies” were in graduate school.Thus, for instance, the innovation of women’s studies was to offer gender as a principal subject of study rather than as an invisible given, whileAfricanAmerican studies foregrounded race, Jewish studies religion,Appalachian studies region, and so on. Once the central term of the redrawn field has been established, the impulse has generally been not merely toward interdisciplinarity but toward eclecticism—in part because eclecticism works to preserve the freshness of the enterprise. If not only literary scholars, historians, and art historians, but also sociologists, public-policy specialists, and biologists can all participate in the same field in 2007, then surely by 2008 we might need to add, say, interior designers and personal trainers to the conversation as well.After all, our educational system is designed not only to transmit to students a body of established knowledge, but also to question in productive ways the idea that any knowledge should really be considered“established.” For all kinds of reasons, academics want to believe that it remains possible to generate new insights into Plato, even after a couple of millennia’s worth of commentary. This way of framing the issue invites us to contemplate what happens to a“studies” field once, likeVictorian studies, it has become old enough to run the risk of representing the establishment rather than the cutting edge. Some such fields have the option of shifting their boundaries yet again, as in the morphing of women’s studies into gender and sexuality studies. Some, such as cultural studies, were from the outset so wide as effectively to lack boundaries altogether, and so to constitute approaches more than fields. But for others, and Victorian studies may be in the latter group, continued boundary-shifting poses something of a challenge. The commitment to interdisciplinarity often privileges methodologies that blur departmental boundaries, such as the marriage of literary and historical scholarship, over other kinds of theoretical victorian review • Volume 33 Number 1 42 developments. Our name confines us to a particular set of years; while it is possible to fudge matters by asserting that“Victorianism” begins with Mansfield Park and persists until 1914, a century is probably as much time as we can cadge. To be sure, imperialism is a help, since the vastness of the areas colored pink on the maps of 1901 provides today’s scholars with ample scope for commentary, but although our geographical limits are spacious, they are still limits. Nor, arguably, will adding more disciplines to the mix preserve innovative appeal indefinitely. For the eclecticism of Victorian studies was not merely a friendly amendment to a new way of looking at a body of knowledge; rather, it was the new way, the boundary-shift that differentiatedVictorian studies from discrete examinations ofVictorian literature, art, science, or history. Scholars inVictorian studies have long been comfortable with the concept of juxtaposing nineteenth-century genre painting with the history of sanitary reform, to name only one pairing that might have seemed eccentric before the“studies” model was established. Whatever our disciplinary background, many of us seem to be historical sociologists manqués.Thus while we consider ourselves heterogeneous and eclectic, an observer might claim with some justification that we are all eclectic in the same way. As a practitioner ofVictorian studies, I would hotly deny that the field has moved beyond maturity into senescence. Yet devotees of H. G.Wells may wonder: If we are not to risk stagnation, where do we go from here? Perhaps...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 41-44
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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