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Embedding the Humanities in Engineering: Art, Dialogue, and a Laboratory Erik Fisher and Roop L. Mahajan Introduction In this chapter, we discuss the development and pursuit of two interdisciplinary trading zones in which the authors participated: (1) an initial year in which we developed the notion of “humanistic engineering” in the University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, and (2) a thirty-three-month period in which Fisher functioned as an “embedded humanist” in Mahajan’s Thermal and Nanotechnology Laboratory. In both cases, we sought to integrate the divergent perspectives of engineering and the humanities in order to enhance the ability of engineers—in undergraduate, graduate, and ultimately professional contexts—to engage in productive, self-critical inquiry. After describing areas of overlap between our various backgrounds and perspectives , we describe our collaborative undertakings, including the genesis and employment of several locutions and metaphors that framed and facilitated our efforts. We reflect on these collaborations in relation to a combined framework of trading zones and interactional expertise (Collins, Evans, and Gorman 2007). We outline the linguistic terms and metaphors we employed during our endeavors in order to reconstruct the coevolution of our thinking during the development and structuring of our interactions. Further, we consider the role played by cognitive activity in our account of these interdisciplinary collaborations. As will be evident, our collaborations were at times propelled by similar goals and assumptions, and at times hampered or shaped by differing ones. In addition, cognition appears to have played a role when the embedded humanist participated in a change in the direction of the laboratory research. 10 210 Erik Fisher and Roop L. Mahajan Part I: Humanistic Engineering in an Engineering College An Engineering Art Gallery From 1998 to 2003, as the humanities advisor of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, Fisher ran an array of interdisciplinary programs, both curricular and extracurricular, including curating a small art gallery. The 500-square-foot Connections Gallery was situated just inside the main entrance of the college, whose imposing brutalist architecture loomed on the east side of Boulder’s otherwise Spanish-tile-andflagstone -bedecked campus. With its mission to “connect art, engineering, and society,” the gallery symbolized the notable interest of a handful of engineering administrators to open up the college and its curriculum to an infusion of humanistic ideas. Artistic installations, in the words of one associate dean, were intended to introduce engineering students to “a different way of thinking.” In 2002, Fisher and Mahajan, the newly appointed dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, met for the first time when they got together to discuss the gallery. Mahajan, then a professor of mechanical engineering and a former AT&T Bell Labs Fellow, had just accepted the appointment as interim dean. He was pleased to learn not only that the college was showcasing its newly constructed art gallery, but that someone without an engineering background was behind the endeavor. His assumption had been that the college’s commitment to liberal and creative arts had been minimal and that the humanities advisor had not made any meaningful efforts to integrate the humanities and social sciences into the engineering curriculum. He was determined to establish a clear line of communication and to ensure that the image the gallery was projecting was in keeping with his intentions for the college as a whole. After an initial and somewhat tense exchange, the two of us quickly overcame our various apprehensions. Our conversation turned more generally to the gallery’s purpose and the role of the humanities in engineering education. We agreed that the humanities could serve as a means for self-development, for posing critical questions, and for broadening technical education in worthwhile ways. After our initial encounter , we began to explore these ideas in relation to the visual arts. The gallery hosted exhibitions in a variety of media that explored social, cultural, and conceptual dimensions of engineering. One installation, sponsored by Ball Aerospace and entitled “Imaging the Invisible,” began with the technological capability to render visual images of what is otherwise undetected by the human eye—for example, landscapes covered with dense jungle canopies, subterranean geological formations, stunning interstellar phenomena, and Embedding the Humanities in Engineering 211 the activity of criminal underworlds and private life. The process of representing these previously imperceptible worlds to the probing eye was not, according to the exhibit, solely the product of satellite and aerospace engineering know-how. Rather, this process entailed other forms of invisibility...


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