The jacket photo of The Oxford Handbook is a huge, luminous floating computerized portrait of our earth, the globe, at the time of Pangaea. Its cautionary symbolism forced me to step back and take the large — and long — view, a healthy perspective for any self-respecting, introspectively-honest professor. Many pixels have been expended on the paradoxical mixture of emotions that swirl through the mind of an intellectual designated, for orderly reasons, to a certain department in a certain building on a certain campus — the most poignant of which is the feeling one gets from time to time that knowledge is ideally the property of no-one and the province of everyone.
Nature is interdisciplinary and thus it follows that the mind predicated upon the phenomenal world will not always follow a proscribed path.
One of the redeeming attributes of the new Oxford Handbook is that it recognizes this fact of life. Julie Thompson Klein and Richard Parncutt question the received notion of privileged works as the sole signposts in art history; Carole Palmer reminds us that information originates by being scattered; Paul Thagard points to the inherently collaborative nature of cognitive science; Veronica Boix-Mansilla asserts that interdisciplinary learning is the most pragmatic of all epistomologies; J. Britt Holbrook questions the integrity of the definition of “peer” as a way to dissect peer-review; Clark A. Miller endorses the velocity of proliferation of centers and institutes as a salutary fragmentation of disciplines; Bill Newell stresses the importance of continuing to infuse undergraduate general education curricula with interdisciplinary courses that respect the unique brains of “net-gen” freshmen; Stephanie Pfirman and Paula J.S. Martin show how collegiality and interdisciplinarity go hand in hand.
These are just some selections from a seminal and inspirational volume that should be required reading for all of us — in higher education and beyond – who see college and university cultures as permeable membranes, letting in diverse molecules of knowledge from the wider, ever-changing world…and thereby releasing multi-perspectived young citizens outward to that world.
Note: Image of book jacket from Oxford University Press.