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February 12, 2007

Louis Menand to give keynote address at ‘interdisciplinarity’ conference

By Scott Rappaport

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, New Yorker staff writer, and Harvard professor Louis Menand will be the keynote speaker at “The Ends of Interdisciplinarity,” a conference to be held March 3 at the UCSC Humanities Lecture Hall. The event will run from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

Photo of Louis Menand
Louis Menand, winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in History for his book The Metaphysical Club, will be the keynote speaker at “The Ends of Interdisciplinarity” conference set for March 3 at the new Humanities Lecture Hall.

The conference will feature presentations by more than a dozen professors in the arts, humanities, and social sciences in an attempt to understand the nature of interdisciplinary work at UCSC, as well as its benefits and drawbacks.

The various meanings and implications of “interdisciplinarity” will be examined through discussion of questions such as:

• What are the available models of interdisciplinarity today—both here at UCSC and elsewhere?

• What are institutional limits at UCSC that constrain interdisciplinarity?  (Inversely, what are the institutional possibilities at UCSC that enable interdisciplinarity?)

• What do we mean by "interdisciplinarity?" Do we mean something different depending on the area such as arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences?

• What are the values attributed to interdisciplinarity?

• What are the histories of interdisciplinarity? Overall and on this campus?

Presented by UCSC’s Visual and Performance Studies faculty and cosponsored by Cowell College, the conference is supported by a UC Presidential Chair grant awarded last summer to history of art and visual culture professor Catherine Soussloff. The event was conceived to address the academic strategic planning process currently taking place which will set the agenda for UCSC in the coming years.

Cowell provost and associate literature professor Tyrus Miller noted that interdisciplinarity has long been considered one of UCSC’s academic strengths and is a central feature in the academic plan being considered for the campus.

“We hope in this conference to share ideas about past and present visions of interdisciplinary study,” said Miller. “It is also crucial to hear about more local experiences of interdisciplinary work… interdisciplinarity in the natural sciences may mean something very different than interdisciplinarity in the humanities or arts,” he added.

Miller observed that there has been considerable interest in interdisciplinarity by many other educational and also cultural institutions—ranging from universities to research and development units to art museums and foundations.

“One needs to ask: What notions of interdisciplinarity are being developed?” said Miller. “What is gained and lost by embracing interdisciplinary approaches? What are the limits of interdisciplinarity? And why are resources and prestige especially flowing to interdisciplinary projects?”

Keynote speaker Louis Menand is best known for his book The Metaphysical Club which received the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for History. A specialist in the field of 19th- and 20th-century American cultural history, Menand is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. He is also a regular contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.

Other speakers at the conference will include:

• Karen Barad, feminist studies, UCSC
• Karen Bassi, literature, UCSC
• Donald Brenneis, anthropology, UCSC
• Sheila Crane, history of art & visual culture, UCSC
• Gina Dent, feminist studies, UCSC
• Mark Franko, theater arts, UCSC
• Lisbeth Haas, history, UCSC
• Randy Martin, art & public policy, NYU
• Tyrus Miller, literature, UCSC
• Carrie Noland, French and Italian, UCI
• Jennifer Reardon, sociology, UCSC
• Deanna Shemek, Literature, UCSC 
• Catherine Soussloff, history of art & visual culture, UCSC 
• Andrew Wegley, history of consciousness, UCSC

For more information, contact Catherine Soussloff at (831) 459-4660 or Andrew Wegley at


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