Professor Hanlon opened his presentation by making a remark about the structure of our campus. Facing Miller Library from the bottom of the hill, humanities studies take place on one’s left and sciences occupy the right. Arts are isolated from this structure, with theatre on one far side of the campus and visual and music hidden behind the science complexes. There is a clear physical divide between disciplines. One can easily dispel the issue by claiming it is a matter of convenience. However, as a liberal arts college, Colby prides itself on the interdisciplinary and boasts that its students are well rounded and apt in multiple subjects. So why does it force students wishing to broaden their horizons to trudge across campus in the grueling winter? Not exactly what I deem the definition of convenience. In fact, I might even call it a deterrent.
Aside from edu-geographical issues, Professor Hanlon’s presentation was mostly concerned with the Royal society and the novel, two major forces which see their origins around the same time in history.
Hanlon provides an overview of the Royal Society and mentions their motto, ‘nullius in verba’, which translates to ‘take nobody’s word for it’. The Society focused heavily on pure observational science and detailed accounts of experimentation and research, without an overwhelming focus on ‘why’ or ‘how’.
Hanlon mentions the novel by S. Fielding, published in 1744, which bears the title ‘The Adventures of David Simple: Containing An Account of his Travels Through the Cities of London and Westminster In the Search of A Real Trend’ or its abridged title ’David Simple, The Adventures of, in Search of a Real Friend’. Hanlon explains that the novels of the era were far form fantastical. They focused on the quotidian, with a strong emphasis on realism. They sought to teach through their attention to detail and the particular. Hanlon argues that these novels led to a development in observational science where contextual knowledge could be built upon understanding of others’ works.
This interdisciplinary link, focusing on the spread of observations enabling the creation of contextual knowledge, highlights a trend of constructivist learning which I believe we will see only increase in magnitude in coming years. As information becomes easier to share, observations are easily digested in the form of imagery and videos, and our literature becomes increasingly atomic in nature (think tweets, Facebook posts, reddit headlines), the focus on constructing one’s own knowledge will only grow. Although this is an overarchingly positive idea, encouraging critical thinking becomes more important than ever with this trend. As information becomes more digestible and begins to require less energy to process, we must find it in ourselves to verify what we ingest. We should construct learning from the information around us, but must not forget ‘nullius in verbs’.
[In reference to the issue of trudging across a snowy campus (mentioned in the first paragraph) the truly interdisciplinary solution would obviously be contracting a network of interweaving underground tunnels which serve to connect the disciplines and function as modular spaces. Most importantly, such a solution would also keep us warm during Maine winters. Get on it, Colby!]