An Experiment in Interdisciplinarity

Community members of the CSID study how scholars work across the silos of academia, and such work can encompass pure or applied research. As an archaeologist, for years I have looked from my “soft” science toward the lofty halls of “hard” science with experiment envy. Any good scientist knows that the best way to study something is to run a good experiment, right? Of course, there are all kinds of limits to such a generalization, but let’s pretend that the answer is yes (at least for the time it takes to read this post).

A group of faculty members at UNT and scholars from other institutions began an experiment in interdisciplinarity over coffee some years ago, starting with a poet (he’s more than that, I know) and an archaeologist (me, also more than an archaeologist). We simply cared about the same issues from different points of view, and we wanted to work together. So we started our experiment; if we could conceive of all academic research (scientific or otherwise) as storytelling, how would we approach what we do? We would be interested in what legitimates one story over another, what is a good poem, what is a strong argument, and so forth. Despite our simplistic dualism, our mutual impression that scholars recognize quality work and that different disciplines use distinctive criteria for gauging quality brought us together. And, thus we shared our opinions on quality stories from our veins of research. That was nice,… but we realized it was not enough.

To understand each others’ opinions on quality, perspectives, judgements, strengths, weaknesses, justices, and injustices, we had to go to the field together. We chose to engage the archaeology of the Mesa Verde region. I knew the “archaeological story” well enough to set a stage, but that story turned out to be limited (hush, don’t tell anyone!). Archaeology, unbeknownst to me (or perhaps I chose not to look), is somewhat of a dominant paradigm when it comes to telling stories about the past of Native American cultures. In fact, that story may not even be the one archaeologists tell; it turns out that we often tell the story of ourselves written into a context that we situate ourselves in. I am sure there is a whole bunch of post-modern, post-structural jargon that applies here that I do not know; you’ll just have to excuse my ignorance and naivete!

So we went to the field on CSID seed money (thanks!), and come the end of March we plan to share the initial products of our fieldwork with the broader UNT community. Mesa Verde, it’s geography, archaeological sites, cultures, stories, will be viewed through multiple lenses. Our experiences have ranged from glory and enrichment to discomfort and insecurity, as interdisciplinary fieldwork is a herky-jerky process. We invite you to come to a public presentation of photography and graphic design, snippets of documentary film, fragments of poems and prose, “facts”, thoughts by a Tewa member of our team, as we tack between art, philosophy, science, and culture. Look to the CSID for more information in March!

Steve Wolverton, UNT Geography

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