Panel: M. Gargiulo (Bergen), Joanna Kostylo (The British School at Rome), (Università Statale, Milano), G. Pieri (RHUL).
Marco Gargiulo’s observation on the interdisciplinary nature of many job adverts in Italian Studies in UK universities (asking for instance teaching and/or research expertise in 20th-century literature AND cinema) was the starting point for our discussion on the interdisciplinary thrust of Italian Studies in the UK. Departmental structures, with Italian as part of larger groupings which include alternatively European Languages and Cultures and European Studies, were viewed by the panel as a sign of the de facto interdisciplinary context in which we currently operate.
Our discussion moved onto to three levels at which interdisciplinary research and teaching operate in academic institutions:
- The research interests of the individual scholar. This area was further broken down into:
- The need for scholars to establish their reputation by building a portfolio of publications in specific areas in order to respond to the academic job market.
- The book market and its disciplinary boundaries which respond to marketing needs/strategies.
- The research and publication model which is prevalent in the humanities which does not favour multiple authors.
- Departmental interests and structures which may foster or hinder those of the individual. Examples which we briefly touched upon were research clusters within departments; the artificial grouping of modern foreign languages which fosters comparative approaches within certain areas (ex. Linguistics and literary studies) but not others (English, history, music are very seldom linked at departmental level with modern European languages).
- Wider institutional interests. For example, the launch by many UK universities of research themes which could be seen as either a means to foster interdisciplinary research OR to curb intellectual freedom. Or the impact of research assessment in the UK—Italian Studies will be assessed by a Modern Languages panel for the first time.
As the previous discussion panel at NYU noted, financial factors seems to have an impact on interdisciplinary research. The drive towards interdisciplinarity can help institutions to frame more positively departmental cuts and restructuring, but it is also linked to the policies of national and European funding bodies to which universities and individuals need to respond. This was seen by some members of our panel as a threat to the individual scholar and the high quality research which in the Humanities is still often the preserve of the lone scholar.
A different model of fostering interdisciplinarity could be seen within non-academic institutions. We talked about the British School at Rome in which for instance scholars with a shared interest in Italian culture, literature, art, archaeology and artists share the same physical and metaphorical roof.
Our final thought was that discussing interdisciplinary research and teaching in Italian Studies was a means to open up discussion on the identity of Italian Studies and the place and status of the discipline in different national and institutional contexts.