The Transdisciplinary Humanities Project was organized by Mark Linder in his role as Chancellor’s Fellow in the Humanities (2011-2014). Its aim was to foster discussion and interaction among multiple fields at the University and with partners in other academic and cultural institutions. As a means to achieve that goal, the project focused on the status, roles, and potential of images in contemporary society, and invited speculation about the challenges they present as a subject of study. The Images Seminar, taught at the Syracuse University Humanities Center, and the related events series, IMAGES?Precisely!, each focused on images as a subject of inquiry and a quickly evolving mode of cultural currency. Both the seminar and the events were venues to explore the ways that the precise analysis, application, and understanding of images invite innovative research methods and collaborations, and promise to shuffle the presumed territories, limits, affiliations, and purposes of the academic fields.
The project invited participants to apply their identifiable, yet malleable, disciplinary knowledge, discourses, and techniques to the basic question, “What is an image?”, and to develop an awareness and understanding of how we now think, exchange, and negotiate ideas, power, and values through images and imaging. By drawing on the specificity and integrity of distinct fields we attempted to develop new affinities between them, to operate in unlikely contexts, to address concerns that are not traditionally understood as the province of any one discipline, and to provoke debates, affiliations, and approaches that invigorate, clarify and expand our understanding of the academy and its public significance. At a time when disciplinary identities and boundaries are shifting, when the value and motives of scholarship are transforming, and when audiences and media are rapidly evolving, defining “the humanities” is both confounding and divisive. We presume that the humanities are fundamental to all scholarly,
creative, and research enterprises that speculate on basic, unresolved, intriguing questions in all fields, and we will begin with the premise that
the humanities are an area of knowledge production that is crucial because it inspires, provokes, affirms, enables, and challenges our claims to a shared humanity or efforts to understand our profound differences.
“Images” invite, and often require, transdisciplinary approaches that draw on the integrity of distinct disciplines to assemble new constituencies, operate in new contexts, and address concerns that are not traditionally understood as the province of any one discipline. Transdisciplinary work demonstrates the malleability of disciplinary identities by operating precisely at the limits of expert knowledge, where disciplinary rigor is still possible but claims of authority or mastery must be abandoned.