The Interdisciplinary Century

BookThe Interdisciplinary Century

The Interdisciplinary Century

tensions and convergences in eighteen-century art, history and literature

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2005:04


April 25th, 2005

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Judging by most contemporary accounts, the virtues of cross-disciplinary research, teaching and scholarship are above reproach. Conference organisers announce with pride that ‘l’interdisciplinarité a porté ses fruits’; governments and universities sponsor ever-growing numbers of interdisciplinary research teams. Such activity is especially pertinent to eighteenth-century studies. The Republic of Letters inspired scholars, scientists, artists, and writers to engage in spirited, multilingual and long-term correspondence with colleagues throughout Europe. As many contributors to this timely and provocative volume argue, a certain kind of interdisciplinarity is required for any consideration of eighteenth-century topics.
But what impact has this enthusiasm for interdisciplinarity had on our understanding of objects, monuments, texts, and events of the past? Born of an intense series of debates, this volume takes on current controversies with unflinching honesty. Contributors address questions of theory and practice. Does interdisciplinary investigation carry any meaningful challenge to the disciplines themselves, or are we merely trading one kind of evidence for another? What institutional constraints work against such research and teaching? Is interdisciplinarity a pressing preoccupation of scholars in France and the UK, as it is in the US?
The introduction provides a critical history of interdisciplinarity and outlines the key tensions of university life as experienced by students and scholars in the US, the UK and France. Position papers provide state-of-the-field analyses – some invigorating or even utopian, others darkly brooding. Case studies present examples of contemporary work, showing what might happen when a literary scholar confronts a pornographer’s battles, when an art historian takes on an ‘undisciplined’ object‚ or, perhaps most intriguing, when a practising attorney evaluates ‘legal’ approaches to literature.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
List of illustrations8
Introduction: the history and current polemics of interdisciplinary work12
I. Knowledge networks and ‘undisciplined objects’36
We have never been interdisciplinary: encyclopedism and etymology in the eighteenth century and since38
Looking at Louis XIV looking: the unity of the disciplines under an absolute monarch58
Les ressources interdisciplinaires de l’e´ tude de l’illustration au dix-huitie me sie cle76
Object lessons: French decorative art as a model for interdisciplinarity*95
II. Rescuing the trivial112
Disciplinary problems in the history of art, or what to do with rococo queens114
Play between disciplines: the problem of the ludic in rococo art and Enlightenment culture137
III. The politics of interdisciplinarity150
Trespassing: notes from the boundaries152
But is it art history? Some thoughts on disciplines, tensions and territories in studies of eighteenth-century art159
IV. Defamiliarising the familiar176
Beaumarchais, social experience and literary figures in eighteenth-century public life178
Literary texts or historical documents? Revisiting the debates on Re´ tif de La Bretonne206
V. Literature and law216
Evidence and analysis for interdisciplinary research in eighteenth-century law and literature218
‘Doing’ history, or what I learned from the 1794 London Treason Trials236
Scandal: law, literature and morality in the early Enlightenment252
VI. Centres and margins, on past and future278
Pour l’indisciplinarite´280
Can culture really explain politics? Interdisciplinary historiography, enlightenment and revolution295
On becoming a historian...305
List of works cited322