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victorian review • Volume 33 Number 1 66 Widerberg, Karen, et al.“Disciplinary Barriers between the Social Sciences and Humanities. National Report on Norway.” January 2005. Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Norway. 2 January 2006 . • Interdisciplinarity, Institutional Politics, and Cultural Studies Jen n y Bou r n e Tay lor • Interdisciplinary studies do not produce closure.Their stories emphasize not simply the circulation of intact ideas across a wider community but transformation: the transformations undergone when ideas enter other genres or different reading groups, the destabilising of knowledge once it escapes from the initial group of co-workers, its tendency to mean more and other than could have been foreseen. —  Gillian Beer, Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter It is now ten years since Gillian Beer’s collection of essays, Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter,appeared, and today interdisciplinarity has become a fashionable , even a necessary, part of intellectual work in the humanities. But what does the term mean in 2006, at a moment when—in Britain at least (and my focus here will be primarily on Britain)—universities face an unprecedented mixture of state surveillance and self-policing? Is interdisciplinarity still“transgressive,” still“crossing between fields,” or has it now become another intellectual brand, a way of signalling originality and innovation in a way that is no longer very original, or a form of ersatz radicalism made cosy and respectable?Victorian studies itself can be seen as an early example of interdisciplinary work taking place before the concept became fashionable, but for me, at least, there is something rather stuffy and restrictive about that term’s way of defining a field, its closed sense of periodization—in a sense the“Victorian” ofVictorian studies remains in thrall to modernism, even as it resists modernism’s simplistic definition of the rupture between“Victorianism” and itself. So I’d like to step back and raise some questions about interdisciplinary work, and its institutional context more generally, as a way of considering the possibilities and limitations currently facing us as nineteenth-century scholars. Interdisciplinarity is not a single set of methods or aspirations—there are many ways of doing work that cut across the “boundaries” of knowledge, whatever those boundaries may be, and now interdisciplinarity rarely simply relates two discrete discourses, but rather constructs a web of intersecting forms of knowledge. Nonetheless, it seems to me that there are two broad and overlapping kinds of interdisciplinary work, both of which need to be 67 Special Forum: Victorian Studies and Interdisciplinarity looked at in the light not only of the internal epistemological and methodological issues that they raise, but also of how they have been shaped, fostered, or curtailed by the different forms of pressures facing academic work at the moment. Firstly, over the last twenty-five years, nineteenth-century studies has pioneered the drive against various kinds of “presentism,” in particular the insistence that our own disciplinary divisions—within the arts as well as between arts, science, and social science—are modern, anachronistic constructions that mid-nineteenth-century culture would not have recognized and that we too should transcend. Studies of the interconnections between literature and science—in particular between narrative forms and evolutionary and psychological theory—are the clearest examples of this approach, and this work has recently been developed by PhyllisWeliver and Delia da Sousa Correa, who both explore the web-like interconnections between theories of music, science, psychology, and literature during the mid-nineteenth century. Kate Flint’s study of Victorians and the visual imagination, which moves between literature, science, and a range of forms of visual culture, is another instance. Such examples certainly elaborate Beer’s point that moving between disciplines deploys and develops knowledge in ways that could not have been foreseen by studying, for example, Helmholtz’s discussion of the waves of sound and light purely in the context of the history of physics. Yet in moving from“translation” to“transformation,” as Beer puts it (173), this kind of interdisciplinary work has brought with it a range of problems as well as possibilities. Mid-nineteenth-century novelists may have actively engaged with a complex of contemporary debates, and physicists, biologists, and mental scientists...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 66-69
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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