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Release: June 19, 2002

UI Obermann Research Seminar examines modern university disciplines

As higher education has evolved, so too has its structure. The current separation of the natural sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities is a relatively modern construct that may or may not be the best way to go forward into the 21st century. A group of scholars from the University of Iowa and around the country is gathered at the UI's Obermann Center for Advanced Studies through June 26 for the center's summer research seminar, "The Emergence of the Modern Disciplines."

In this interdisciplinary seminar, scholars of all three areas will assess formative moments in and shifting boundaries between academic fields by examining key figures and movements from the 16th to the 20th century. A key moment at the end of the 18th century will be examined more carefully. The seminar also will look to the future to address the question of whether the current "trichotomy" is robust enough to withstand post-modern challenges.

"It is not enough to retrace the development of the natural sciences, the human sciences, and the humanities independently," says David Depew, the director of the seminar. "They must be seen as jostling one another about from the outset."

The annual Obermann Summer Research Seminar brings together competitively-selected researchers and scholars worldwide for 2-4 weeks to present and discuss original papers and to develop a publication on an important interdisciplinary topic. Jay Semel, Obermann Center director, notes the irony that the summer seminars and other Obermann Center interdisciplinary programs are a way of bringing together again the now-separated modern disciplines.

UI participants in this year's seminar include: David Depew, professor of communication studies and the Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry; John F. Garcia, assistant professor of classics; Daniel Gross, assistant professor of rhetoric; John S. Nelson, professor of political science; and Frederick Skiff, professor of physics and astronomy. Other participants are: John P. Jackson, Jr., University of Colorado at Boulder; Christopher Kuipers, University of California at Irvine; Claudia Moscovici, Boston University; and John Poulakos, University of Pittsburgh.

Visiting the seminar as Distinguished Speakers are J. E. McGuire, professor of philosophy of science, University of Pittsburgh; Phillip Sloan, professor of the program of liberal arts, University of Notre Dame; and James Porter, professor of classics, University of Michigan.

The Obermann Summer Research Seminar is funded by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the C. Esco and Avalon L. Obermann Endowment fund, with additional support from the Graduate College.

For more information, contact Depew or Semel at 335-4034.