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      A Mellon Foundation project with the Center for Disciplinary Innovation

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Project Summary

The Disciplines & Technologies Project is devoted to exploring the relations between technologies and disciplines, both historically and in their current state.

By a discipline we mean a set of practices through which a body of knowledge is constructed, maintained, and disseminated. A discipline can therefore be reduced neither to a subject matter, nor to a method, nor to an institutional framework. Otherwise, we would not be able to talk about disciplines’ changing in ways that departments fail to capture.  One of our goals is to understand how the map of the disciplines is changing, with a view to understanding forces that will shape the future of the university. 

By a technology we mean, broadly, a device, machine, or mechanism — which may be virtual — that human societies develop and use instrumentally to accomplish a desired end. Generally, technologies have histories: they arise, change, and are left behind. Technologies typically entail the existence of particular communities — often disciplines — possessed of specific knowledge and distinct skills with which to deploy them. Yet technologies fall out of use or tunnel through the walls dividing disciplines. What happens when they do is a central topic of this project. 

In this first phase of the project, we pursue this project on four fronts: in-depth research studies, a historical map of the disciplines, a digital museum, and a conference to be held in Spring 2015. Two pilot studies of particular episodes of disciplinary and technological interaction are being executed by our postdoctoral scholars. These studies are intended to enable us to define and refine our questions, vocabularies, and approaches for grappling with the relation between technology and discipline in depth. At the same time, we are undertaking a preliminary portrayal of how the disciplinary landscape in academia has changed since the advent of the major US research universities in the late nineteenth century, showing how those changes intersected with technological developments. This will provide a broad, empirical starting point for further investigations. 

Our overall aim is to combine both ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ perspectives — the high-level survey of the topic’s contours and the two ‘probes’ revealing the deep structure behind those contours — to produce initial insight and a coordinate scheme from which to design further exploration. 

The Disciplines & Technologies Project is sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Franke Institute for the Humanities | 1100 East 57th Street, JRL S-118 | Chicago, Illinois 60637 | 773-702-8274