Building bridges

Collaboration can strengthen the humanities

The decline of the humanities is a staple of newspapers, magazines and higher education journals, as institutions drop programs and numbers show that student interest continues to decline nationally in fields such as history, language, literature, the arts, religion and philosophy.

Faced with this trend, scholars, educators and advocates typically defend their disciplines with arguments about the value of the humanities. Associate Provost Touba Ghadessi recently wrote an essay published by the New England Journal of Higher Education that offers an alternative response to championing the humanities.

Rather than building walls, Ghadessi said the humanities should build bridges of collaboration to the sciences and social sciences, enriching the dialogue among disciplines. “If we do not determine why we are dissecting a body, accelerating particles or creating software, we fail our students, our colleagues, our fellow citizens,” she said.

The essay continues Ghadessi’s work as an advocate for the value and relevance of the humanities, both at Wheaton and in the wider world. She is the co-founder of the Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities (WIIH) and the college’s liaison to the New England Humanities Consortium. Beyond campus, she currently serves as the chair of the Board of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.

An early modern historian of art and anatomy, Ghadessi presents the 16th century anatomist Andreas Vesalius as an exemplar of what can be accomplished through interdisciplinary learning, dialogue and collaboration.

“In the 16th century, Andreas Vesalius used the knowledge he had acquired in his public—and private—dissections to produce and publish De humani corporis fabrica (On the fabric of the human body). In doing so, he did not limit himself by looking at the human body only through the lens of Galen’s anatomical works or only through theological disputes over divine purpose. Rather, his compendium combined knowledge he gathered from all these disciplines.”

To read the complete article, visit the New England Journal of Higher Education.