Unapplied Humanities: Interdisciplinary Strategies for Bridging the Gap between Theory and Citizenship Building in Literary Studies
The situation in teaching the humanities disciplines today, especially in higher of education, is nothing short of a crisis. This crisis manifests itself in shrinking enrollments, loss of faculty positions and the erosion of influence that the humanities – and especially literary studies - used to exert on liberal education. At the heart of the problem is the disconnection between the social reality and deconstructive theory building that constitutes a lot of literary teaching and research. This paper proposes five interdisciplinary strategies for addressing this disconnect and for restoring college classrooms in literature to the goals of liberal education and fostering citizenship. These strategies derive from direct teaching experience and from observation of dozens humanities classrooms across the country in the course of a nationwide study of interdisciplinary learning in the US undertaken by Harvard Graduate School of Education. Underlying the five strategies are three interconnected ideas: 1) overcoming extreme specialization and formalism through activist connection to themes and ideas; 2) opening a wider frame of reference through interdisciplinary crossovers; and 3) re-attachment humanities to the arts through creative transformation of texts using traditional and digital media. The discussion concludes with a reference to the work of four prominent scholars who already apply these strategies and thus set a model for the general revitalization of the field of literary studies.
Keywords: Liberal Education, Involved Citizenship, Literary Studies, Interdisciplinary Approach, Digital Media
Assistant Professor of English, Humanities and Arts Department, Worcester Polytechnic Institute