Discussion panel on policy implications, New York University, Casa Italiana: how can interdisciplinarity inspire new patterns of research and teaching?
Panel: R. Ben-Ghiat (NYU), J. Champagne (PennState), G. Pieri (RHUL), L. Somigli (Toronto University).
Our discussion group benefited from multiple national perspectives (US, Canada, UK). We focused on a number of interrelated issues and took as our starting point the morning sessions which raised the issue of the kind of disciplinary training that makes interdisciplinary connections possible.
The first point we discussed was related to funding and resources in institutions and how they may be linked to the current drive towards interdisciplinarity as a means to group together cognate disciplines which have traditionally occupied separate spaces. Is this a money saving exercise? Is this the future of smaller subject and/or disciplinary areas in the face of current funding cuts in the arts and humanities sectors?
We also discussed the effect of the need to offer courses in English (with all material in English translation) and how that may affect the teaching of Italian content courses. It is fair to say that we were less preoccupied with this issue since we saw language learning as often separate from the teaching of content. Tighter links between language and content in Italian Studies may or may not be desirable, since the come with their own sets of advantages and disadvantages.
Our discussion then moved onto another central issue: what is the difference between a mono-disciplinary and an interdisciplinary approach from a pedagogical point of view? We spent a lot of time over the thorny issue of transmission of knowledge and the relative merits of different approaches to disciplinary boundaries.
This led us also to discuss the idea of the canon and the shifts in the Italian curriculum. J. Champagne offered the perspective of English in which the canon, as he put it, is simply ‘too large to cover it all’. We noted the similarity with the situation in Italian Studies in which a once traditional curriculum, dominated by the study of Italian literature, now includes a variety of other areas of study, especially cinema, history, and the visual arts. We thought that the expanding boundaries of the curriculum could/should be seen as a liberating force which allows a much more flexible approach to curriculum design and delivery. We also wondered whether the fact that we still think of the boundaries of the specific disciplines may be linked to longstanding 19th-century notions of academic disciplines.
We also noted the difference of US Honours programmes and their relative flexibility since the 1980s. This institutional shift has not taken place in the UK. However, we noted that, if one takes the example of Italian Studies in the UK, the growth of Italian Cultural Studies since the 1990s has altered the curriculum and has led some departments to develop a more interdisciplinary offer.