Reflections on Haverford’s 2nd Annual Trans-Divisional Seminar

A librarian, an English professor, a classicist, a historian, a political scientist, and a biologist walk into a bar.

Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? Well if we just replace “bar” with “seminar room” and add seven college students into the mix, we move from a joke to the beginning of Haverford’s second annual Trans-Divisional Seminar, which took place during the week before classes, from Aug. 27-30. The subject of this year’s seminar was For the Record: Knowledge, Power, & Profit.

I confess that when I applied to participate in this seminar, all the way back in May, I really had no idea what it was about or what it would entail. What peaked my interest was the word “trans-divisional.” As a physics major minoring in French who spent a semester in Nice taking mostly literature and history courses, the very idea of a trans-divisional conversation appealed to me. Throughout the summer, as I completed the readings that the participating faculty members posted for us, more concrete notions concerning what the seminar was about became clear. The readings were divided into three categories: 1) archives and memory, 2) stem cell research and tissue donation, and 3) the Internet.

If you don’t immediately see the connection between these three categories, you’re not alone. Nevertheless, all three of these topics came up quite naturally over the course of our conversation on the very first day of the seminar. Facebook and the 2002 NBC documentary Price for Peace don’t have all that much in common at first glance, but if you dig a little deeper you can see that they are both examples of the interplay between technology and archive. The desire to preserve both our history and our memory is inherent in both, as is the question of what role technology plays in this archival process. Making these kinds of connections and exploring their implications were the driving force behind our discussions.

Throughout the discussion, I found myself thinking about how the wide range of disciplines represented by the faculty and students was affecting the seminar. For that matter, was it affecting the seminar at all? Would the discussion have been the same if the participants were all from one discipline? Was it the background of the faculty and students or the nature of the subject matter that made this seminar “trans-divisional”? I don’t know what my fellow seminar participants would say, but for me it was definitely both, and the importance of trans-divisionality, in my opinion, rests on this two-fold nature. As we live in a world of all different types of people, being able to communicate your own ideas to those involved in other disciplines is crucial.

Yet as soon as you open up your ideas to other disciplines, you in a sense give those ideas to the other disciplines and invite feedback from people you wouldn’t normally have gotten it from. The ideas themselves become trans-divisional. Both the actual ideas and the background of the people discussing them are relevant. As a physics major, I am acutely aware that I am walking unfamiliar ground writing a blog post for the Arts and Humanities Center and that many of the ideas I’m expressing would be phrased very differently (and perhaps more eloquently) if an English major were writing this post. Nevertheless, I believe that I, and other non-humanities majors or faculty members, can both contribute to and learn from the Arts and Humanities Center. For the Record was about just that: about the ideas that can be discussed and the ways that they can be approached by people with a broad range of interests. In this world where networking is key, that is a crucial skill to understand. That is trans-divisionality.

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