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IPRH Receives $2,000,000 for Interdisciplinary Graduate Education

Students walk on the quad.

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities announced they have been awarded a $2,000,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support Interseminars, an initiative designed to build communities of inquiry among graduate students and faculty at the University of Illinois around emerging research directions in the interdisciplinary humanities and arts. The grant will be used to prototype what the interdisciplinary humanities and arts can be when we invest in a new model of graduate research and training—one which creates material conditions that support interdisciplinary approaches to research and teaching and does so with a diverse graduate student population at the forefront. In the process, Interseminars will help to prepare graduate students to be adept at both navigating and actively shaping the kind of higher education landscapes and cultures they want to see in the 21st century.

“Graduate education in the humanities and arts at Illinois is a vital producer of field-defining knowledge, innovative pedagogy, and exciting new ways of looking at the world around us,” said Wojtek Chodzko‑Zajko, Dean of the Graduate College. “Humanities and arts graduate students help make Illinois a top-notch research university, and the Graduate College has a long history of working with campus partners to foster interdisciplinary collaboration in these fields. We are delighted to continue that commitment as IPRH launches Interseminars.”

The new Interseminars initiative builds on a model of interdisciplinarity in the humanities and arts first developed at the University of Illinois between 2012-17 by the Graduate College through its INTERSECT grants.  A source of internal funding for graduate fellowships in interdisciplinary arts and humanities education, INTERSECT was highly successful in supporting several research groups, which have since built and sustained communities of interdisciplinary research around topics such as Networks for Neurocultures, Global Indigenous Studies, Cultures of Law in Global Contexts, and Technology Studies and Knowledge Infrastructures in the Humanities.

"With this generous funding from Mellon, Interseminars will provide exciting new energy and material support for faculty and graduate students working in emerging research areas in the humanities and arts,” said Siobhan Somerville, Chair of Gender and Women's Studies and Associate Professor of English. “There is already a strong interdisciplinary pulse on our campus in the humanities and arts, so Interseminars will help catalyze new formations and experimentation across these fields."

At the heart of the Interseminars model is the conviction that interdisciplinary pedagogy via faculty co-teaching is the key to moving graduate education in the humanities and arts forward. Rarely a regular part of graduate curricula, co-teaching offers unique opportunities for collaborative design and sustained dialogue in the semi-public setting of the classroom, where interactive practice and joint development of ideas and methods can be sustained over weeks and months of conversation in common. The Interseminars model is grounded in this practice of collaborative pedagogy and exploration over the long durée. Each year, awards will be made to interdisciplinary projects that run concurrently for 18 months, beginning with a Summer Intensive that will build intellectual community among faculty and graduate students from multiple disciplines. Faculty conveners will develop two team-taught Interseminars courses, one devoted to methods/practices and one focused on a specific interdisciplinary topic. A second Summer Intensive will provide time and space for completing research projects and designing a collaborative, public-facing “culminating event” scheduled for the final fall semester. Taken together, these shared experiences will provide faculty and graduate students with the opportunity to build their interdisciplinary projects over time and develop research methods and outcomes that emerge directly from the specific collaborative theme at hand.

"Interdisciplinary teaching and learning is transformative for students and faculty alike,” said Gabriel Solis, Professor of Music and Head, Department of Theatre. “This support for collaborative course development and research activity across the arts and humanities will bring new energy and a spirit of experimentation to bear on key questions in the world today."

Key to the Interseminars model is IPRH’s commitment to supporting students from populations who have been historically underrepresented in graduate education. Each Interseminar project will have a full academic year of fellowship support for a robust cohort of graduate students, plus two summer stipends, with special attention to recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority and first-generation students seeking interdisciplinary training for their research projects, teaching portfolios and public humanities work. In keeping with the  commitments of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Interseminars grounds interdisciplinary graduate education in “broadly different perspectives, experiences, races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, socioeconomic circumstances or other backgrounds.” In the context of a public research university like the University of Illinois, where diversity, access and inclusion are expressly articulated values, faculty in the humanities and arts have been vocal about the urgency of transforming the professoriate—and of creating conditions where graduate students from all backgrounds feel authorized to bring their humanities and arts knowledge to bear in any arena of work they choose.

Paul Michael L. Atienza, a PhD candidate in Anthropology, participated in the faculty-student Working Group last year that helped design the grant. “It’s been an honor to work alongside faculty dedicated to reimagining the structures of knowledge production that encourage creative and experimental methods as well as public engagement,” he said. “The commitment to award graduate student fellows a full year plus two summer stipends acknowledges the importance of financially supporting the labor and energies of interdisciplinary scholarship.”

The Interseminars initiative seeks, in short, to promote the value of heterogeneity and access in graduate education in order to prepare a diverse cohort of leaders ready for careers both in and outside the academy. If this is a model rooted in values and practices well-established in the contemporary humanities and arts, it is also potentially translatable across the whole university ecosystem—and wherever higher education is viewed as an agent of equity and access through the mechanism of curricular change.

“We are immensely grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for enabling us to develop a truly imaginative experiment in interdisciplinary graduate education through the Interseminars grant,” IPRH director Antoinette Burton said. “I especially want to acknowledge the efforts of the faculty and graduate students, convened by Professors Somerville and Solis, who designed this innovative model. Thanks to their work and ongoing collaboration, IPRH will be able to help foster structures flexible enough to accommodate both existing interdisciplinary fields and the creation of formations that might be nascent or exploratory. What’s really exciting is that Interseminars has the potential to generate new models of interdisciplinary research and teaching that we cannot yet anticipate.”

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Reposted from the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (October 30, 2019).