Bridging the Humanities and Sciences

As a faculty member of the new College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences, do you find yourself bridging the gap between the disciplines of the humanities and the sciences?

After the initial idea was brought up by assistant professor David Grant from the Department of Languages and Literatures, our office set out to find faculty members who have embraced the merge of the two previous colleges by offering courses that combine both the humanities and the sciences. The following are such accounts about faculty members within CHAS.

David Grant, Department of Languages and Literatures

Assistant professor and coordinator of Writing Programs, Grant is teaching “Studies in Environmental Literature,” English 4186/5186. The genre of environmental literature, or nature writing, has often been hailed as America’s unique contribution to the world literature. Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson and Annie Dillard are all representative examples. Such writers are often scientists themselves and their writings are required texts in the natural, social and humanistic sciences.

This course surveys environmental literature and focuses on “ecocriticism,” or the ways language, literature and writing represents places and the natural world, orients our perspectives toward them and connects us to them as an evolutionary adaptation of human beings. It encompasses the idea that terms like “nature” or “wilderness” have meaning due to social convention, but that these conventions are not simply a fiction. However our disciplinary methods allow us to grasp our surroundings, they will always be incomplete. How might we do so responsibly and with a full sense of the term “literacy” is a fundamental question. The course, then can be valuable to students in sustainability studies, biology, interpretative naturalism, geography as well as students in education.

Current students enrolled are from the Departments of Languages and Literatures, Geography, Public Policy and Interdisciplinary Studies. The capstone project will focus on researching and producing a “landscape genealogy” about a local natural area such as the Hudson Avenue Retention Ponds or Hartman Nature Preserve. Given the student make up of the course, multiple disciplinary perspectives will come together to focus on a particular place. Grant is currently looking for a suitable archive to house and display the results of the project, which he hopes will grow as the course continues.

Adrienne Lamberti, Department of Languages and Literatures

Professor Lamberti asserts that the “Applied Writing” courses offered by UNI’s Professional Writing Program bridge the disciplines, as these courses focus upon professional-level communication as it exists in any context. For instance, during this semester’s course in “Workplace Communication,” English 4765/5765, students in the Professional Writing Program minor are teamed with students in other programs to produce communications for actual organizational clients throughout the state. The 4765/5765 course therefore enables substantial collaboration and mutual support among professional writing students, who often major in the humanities, and students who are learning to be subject matter experts in, e.g., math, science and technologies.

The discussion cultivated by such teamwork enables each student to strengthen workplace communication skills as relevant to his/her field, while gaining appreciation for other disciplines’ discourse communities (and their professional value systems).

Kenneth Bleile, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Professor Bleile teaches two courses that combine elements of the humanities and the sciences: “Language Acquisition: Birth to Five Years,” a sophomore level course open to all university students, and “Seminar on Speech Sound Disorders,” a graduate level course for students majoring in communication sciences and disorders. Both courses, in different ways, address three basic questions: Why study speech and its disorders?, What is the neurological basis of speech learning and How does the environment facilitate speech learning?

Douglas Shaw, Department of Mathematics

Shaw, a professor in the Department of Mathematics also teaches a course for the Department of Theatre. In addition, Shaw has also directed the improv troupe, Half-Masted, which often performs in the Strayer-Wood Theatre and in the Communication Arts Center.

Feeling inspired? Faculty and staff members of CHAS are encouraged to submit more information to the Dean’s Marketing and Promotions office about the ways in which they have embraced the merge of the two previous colleges that combine both the humanities and the sciences. Submissions may be sent online through the CHAS website at www.uni.edu/chas/news-events/chas-update/submit-update with the article title, “Bridging the Humanities and Sciences.” Submissions may also be emailed directly to chasupdate@uni.edu with a similar subject line.