Looking back: PATS workshop on Interdisciplinarity

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Juan Gomez writes…

A few weeks ago the Early Modern Thought Research Theme here at Otago hosted a colloquium on “Practical Knowledges and Skill in Early Modern England.” After two days of great talks, postgraduate students were able to take part in an ANZAMEMS sponsored workshop on “Interdisciplinarity in Medieval and Early Modern Research.” I took part in the workshop and in today’s post I want to share my thoughts on what turned out to be an outstanding event.

The main purpose of the workshop was to give postgraduate students tools to enhance current and future research projects. With this in mind, the speakers shared how they had each in their own way been engaged with this interdisciplinary aspect of the Early Modern period. The talks were followed by practical sessions where we had the opportunity to think about and develop our research projects from an interdisciplinary perspective. The whole workshop was a huge success and I am sure I am not the only one that now has a better idea of how beneficial it is for research in the early modern period to look at/borrow from/collaborate with other disciplines.

Of special interest to me were the talks given by Peter Harrison on “Disciplinary boundaries in intellectual history: science, religion & philosophy” and Andrew Bradstock on “Religious language in early modern texts.” Harrison’s talk was a very clear example of the interdisciplinary nature of the Early Modern period. It highlighted how three disciplines–science, religion, and philosophy, disciplines that to our modern eyes seem very distinct–drew on each other constantly. As readers of this blog know, I have done some research on George Turnbull’s work on Jesus Christ and miracles that exemplify this interaction between science, religion, and philosophy in the eighteenth century.

Andrew Bradstock’s talk made me think about how my research on Turnbull can be tremendously enhanced by drawing on the religious context of the time. For example,Turnbull’s Principles of Christian Philosophy draws heavily on passages from the bible, some of them with which am not that familiar or might not know their significance at the time. By working with someone emersed the history of religion or acquiring knowledge of it, I can add another layer to my research that will enrich our understanding of Turnbull’s thought.

The workshop made it clear that crossing the boundaries of a particular discipline is not only fruitful, but even necessary when engaged in early modern research. Given that there is a natural characteristic of interdisciplinarity to the early modern period, we must leave the comfort zone of our own discipline if we want to carry out our research projects properly. Most of us have actually done this without noticing that we are engaged in interdisciplinary research. The workshop brought this to my attention, and I started thinking about the many ways in which my research would have been improved if I had consciously made an effort to enrich my understanding of any given topic by allowing myself to explore what other disciplines have to offer. And this enrichment of knowledge works both ways: there are projects stationed in other disciplines that would be enhanced by what I have to offer as a researcher from a specific discipline, with a specific skill set.

This is not to say that early modern research cannot be carried out other than in an interdisciplinary manner, but rather that through interdisciplinarity we can enhance tremendously the research projects we are all developing from our specific discipline.

 

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