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Interdisciplinarity and the Digital Humanities: Profiling Julie Thompson Klein

Interdisciplinarity and the Digital Humanities: Profiling Julie Thompson Klein

Julie Thompson Klein is Professor of Humanities in the English Department and Faculty Fellow for Interdisciplinary Development in the Division of Research at Wayne State University (USA). Holder of a Ph.D. in English from the University of Oregon, Dr. Klein is past president of the Association for Integrative Studies (AIS) and former editor of the AIS journal Issues in Integrative Studies. Her books include Interdisciplinarity: History, Theory, and Practice (l990), Interdisciplinary Studies Today (co-edited, 1994), Crossing Boundaries: Knowledge, Disciplinarities, and Interdisciplinarities(1996), Transdisciplinarity: Joint Problem Solving among Science, Technology, and Society (co-edited, 2001), Interdisciplinary Education in K-12 and College (edited, 2002), the monograph Mapping Interdisciplinary Studies(1999), Humanities, Culture, and Interdisciplinarity: The Changing American Academy (2005), and Creating Interdisciplinary Campus Cultures (2010). She was also Associate Editor of the Oxford Handbook on Interdisciplinarity (2010), and has authored numerous articles and book chapters.

Klein has received both national and international awards and invitations. She was elected to the Wayne State University Academy of Scholars and is a recipient of the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Graduate Mentor Award, the Board of Governors Distinguished Faculty Award, and Board of Governors Distinguished Faculty Fellowship. She won the final prize in the Eesteren-Fluck & Van Lohuizen Foundation's international competition for new research models and has received the Kenneth Boulding Award for outstanding scholarship on interdisciplinarity, the Yamamoorthy and Yeh Distinguished Transdisciplinary Achievement Award, and the Joseph Katz Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Practice and Discourse of General and Liberal Education. She was also Senior Fellow at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) in 1997-98, was appointed continuing Senior Fellow at the University of North Texas Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity in 2009, and in Fall 2008 was an invited Visiting Fellow at the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities and in Fall 2011 was Mellon Fellow and Visiting Professor in Digital Humanities.

Klein consults widely throughout North America. In addition to helping numerous colleges and universities develop interdisciplinary programs, she was a member of AACU’s national Task Force on Interdisciplinary Studies, a consultant for its Asheville Institute on General Education, and a member of its national task force on Integrative Learning. From 1997–2000, Klein was a Member of the national Academic Assembly Council of The College Board, and from 1999–2000 a Member of the Association for Integrative Studies Task Force on Accreditation. In addition, she has advised the National Institutes of Health, National Academies of Science, and National Science Foundation on interdisciplinary research and education.

Klein is active internationally as well. In l978-79 she was Visiting Foreign Professor at Shimane University in Matsue, Japan; in l987, Fulbright Lecturer at Tribhuvan University in Nepal; in 1991, Academic Specialist for the U.S. Information Agency in Kathmandu; and, in 1995, Foundation Visitor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She has also spoken on interdisciplinarity throughout Latin America, Europe, and in Australia. More recently, she was a member of the Academy of Finland’s Integrative Research team, the US National Academies of Science task force on modernizing the National Science Foundation’s taxonomy of science and engineering’ and was an advisor to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences on evaluation of interdisciplinary research. In addition, she has represented the United States at OECD- and UNESCO-sponsored international symposia on interdisciplinarity in Sweden. Portugal, and in France. She is also a member of the Executive Board of HASTAC (the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), is co-editor of the University of Michigan Press series Digital Humanities@digitalculturebooks and is writing a new book on Mapping Digital Humanities (2012).   

What aspect of your current work means the most to you and why?

I am working currently in two areas: digital humanities and interdisciplinary research and education. The work in digital humanities (DH) includes ongoing service on the HASTAC Executive Board and co-editorship with Tara McPherson of the new Digital Humanities series in digitalculturebooks, an imprint of the University of Michigan Press MPublishing. The series seeks traditional manuscripts as well as hybrid print and digital formats, online resources and websites, and interactive and multimodal work: all falling under the broad rubric of digital humanities. At present, we are also managing submissions for the UM Press/HASTAC Publication Prize in Digital Humanities, sponsored by the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities. For further information, see http://www.digitalculture.org/

My work on interdisciplinary research and education has a much longer history. At present, I am completing a new book that tests the claim Digital Humanities is an interdisciplinary field, serving on the program committee of the Science of Team Science network, and in a new position at Wayne State University as Faculty Fellow for Interdisciplinary Development in the Division of Research aimed at strengthening prospects for interdisciplinary research and education across the university. I also remain active in the US-based professional organization for interdisciplinary studies, the Association for Integrative Studies, and in the European-based Network for Transdisciplinary Research.

What makes you interested in the digital or interdisciplinary aspect of your field(s)? What shifted your thinking to a more HASTAC-y perspective?

Even before I became involved in HASTAC I began making use of digital technologies and new media in my classrooms, initially in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program at Wayne State and now in the English Department. My involvement with HASTAC began when Cathy Davidson asked if I would host a local event in a new monthly series, the 2006-2007 In/Formation Year featuring monthly presentations at selected campuses on innovative uses of digital technologies. The local planning team at Wayne State University decided to focus our February 2007 symposium on “Digital Partnerships in Humanities,” featuring the University Libraries’ Digital Collections and innovative work in the English Department. That event lead a Faculty Fellow position in the Office for Teaching and Learning, highlighted by building a cross-campus Digital Humanities Collaboratory and being Co-PI of a NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up grant to foster greater ease of access to incorporating digital collections into teaching and learning. As a result of the Digital Humanities work, I have also been writing and speaking more on the importance of responding to digital technologies in interdisciplinary research and education.

How do you see your field at large changing?

Digital Humanities is expanding from an early historical focus oncomputational linguistics, electronic text production, and digital collections to a widening set of interests that include new digital-born objects, forms of scholarly production and publication, fields such as gaming studies, and critique of the impact of the computer on behavior and culture.

The most prominent developments in interdisciplinary research and education include a widened number of fields over the latter half of the 20th and early 21st century, expansion of transdisciplinary paradigms and approaches, and heightened interest in collaborative work paralleled by interested attention in funding agencies and national science policy bodies.

What brought you to your field?

My interest in interdisciplinarity began with teaching in an innovative interdisciplinary program for working adult students, modeled on alternative general/liberal education models. I became curious about the intellectual warrants of the concept, eventually expanding to also study its institutional dynamics and international scope and variety of activities.

What do you believe are the challenges and barriers entering scholars will have to navigate as they attempt to make a career?

Despite the heightened rhetoric of Digital Humanities and of Interdisciplinarity, in both areas entering scholars often remain at a disadvantage because the institutional reward structure is slow to change, qualified evaluators and criteria are often lacking, and innovative work still often faces a negative bias. Collaborative work is also often slower to produce outcomes and is discounted in favor of individual achievements. Professional associations are calling for greater endorsement of DH work, though, including the Modern Language Association and the American Historical Association. The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Science of Team Science network, and the Network for Transdisciplinary Research have also made strides in greater endorsements and guidelines for best practices in interdisciplinary research and education.

What successes and challenges have you seen in building a community?

Any new area must build economic, social, and cultural capital. In my last book, Creating Interdisciplinary Campus Cultures, I wrote at length on this topic.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?

This question is hard for me to answer, because I collaborate everyday with amazing people across the world through both established organizations and the vast network of contacts I have developed for my own research work. I already have the fortune of working with talented individuals and “dream teams.”

Discuss your experience coordinating the recent HASTAC conference at U of M.

As a co-lead organizer of the HASTAC V conference I was involved in a two-year planning process that intensified during the fall semester of 2011. At the time, I was a Mellon Fellow and Visiting Professor in Digital Humanities at the Ann Arbor campus, with primary responsibility for developing and teaching the first Digital Humanities seminar taught in the University. My students attended the conference as part of their course requirements, and the conference planning committee was especially pleased that HASTAC Scholars and other followers of the organization found the experience to be an energizing combination of keynote speeches, panels, digital art installations, a tour of the innovation Digital Media Commons on the University’s North Campus, and heavy traffic in the Twittersphere. The conference was made possible by generous resources gathered by the Daniel Herwitz, Director of the Institute for the Humanities.

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