Centre supports research beyond disciplines 

By Karen Herland

Academics are increasingly reaching outside of traditional disciplinary boundaries to find tools, theories or approaches to enrich their research.

An historian interested in 19th-century Canada may have more to talk about with someone in the English department researching literature of that era than a history colleague who is studying medieval Europe.

Recognizing this, professors in Arts and Science and Fine Arts began discussions six years ago about how they might be able to bring together researchers from different departments who share interests or methods.

Maurice Charland is enthusiastic about the potential of the new Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture. Magnifying glass

Maurice Charland is enthusiastic about the potential of the new Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture.

The result is the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture (CISSC). Maurice Charland, who was chair of Communications Studies last year, heads the centre which is part think tank, part resource centre. “It’s nice to have a centre for the humanities which will promote humanities scholarship across the departments,” Charland said.

The CISSC will provide an opportunity for professors from both faculties to exchange on theory and practice. Charland sees a lot of common ground in terms of interests and the increased emphasis within Fine Arts on research/creation.

The Centre will operate out of offices on the sixth floor of the LB building. It was established over the summer; the last few months have been spent furnishing the offices and making plans.

A few events will officially launch the initiative. Next term will feature a lecture and advanced seminar from two important scholars. The University of Chicago’s W.J.T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, known for his work on the relations of visual and verbal representations in the context of social and political issues, will come in January. February will feature Michael Taussig, whose anthropological work has addressed slavery, ritual and magic over a career spanning almost four decades.

The humanities doctoral program under Catherine Russell now operates out of offices in the Centre. “We wanted to create a meeting place for faculty and doctoral students,” Charland said, pointing out that the centre is not affiliated with an undergraduate program like the Science College or the Simone de Beauvoir Institute.

The Centre can offer meeting space and resources to support Arts and Science and Fine Arts researchers who want to organize working groups around specific subjects.

An initial call for interdisciplinary working groups has just been issued. “We are interested in subject matter that is not contained comfortably within one department,” Charland said. Up to five working groups will receive $1,200 to support invited lecturers, small-scale events, and the copying of materials.

Sandeep Bhagwati got an immediate positive response from faculty members for the working group on interdisciplinary art that he proposed. Tim Clark, of Hexagram, had been thinking about similar issues and independently put out a call for researchers interested in the connections between art, science and technology (see article below). He is also approaching the CISSC for support.

Charland, whose background is in rhetoric, does not rule out the potential for research teams to grow out of the CISSC. For now, he is more interested in creating connections and links between individuals and departments. “It sounds old-fashioned, and in my mind it is. I want to facilitate reflection.”

Charland said that the CISSC can ultimately increase Concordia’s profile through the promotion of events and activities. Eventually, through the development of a summer institute, the CISSC could reach a broader community. For more information, email Maurice.Charland@Concordia.ca.


Concordia University