Trespassing is ordinarily thought of as a misdemeanor, if not a crime, and as a violation of a declared boundary. Moreover, changes to what the boundary protected are ordinarily treated as damage. Trespassing is never encouraged, generally prohibited, and often punished. It is a phenomenon that can take many forms, often no more than setting foot across a property line, but also migrating or fleeing across a territorial boundary, or working in a discipline other than one’s own.
A disciplinary example is the lengthy critique of the standard practice of historians in the second epilogue to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Was Tolstoy trespassing and thereby intruding on a domain that properly belonged only to historians? Did his historiography mar War and Peace as literature? Alternatively, isn’t War and Peace admired for so effectively combining literature and history, and inventing a new form of the novel in the process? War and Peace may be emblematic of the 19th century’s scientific, academic, and aesthetic trespassing of the boundaries between disciplines and modes of investigation, but the 21st century has notable equivalents. Philosophers study neuroscience and neuroscientists study philosophy, economists use psychology and psychologists use economics, biologists model language change and linguists model evolution, computer scientists produce works of art and artists write code. This is a handful of examples among many in today’s scientific, academic and aesthetic practices.
A more fraught case of apparent trespass concerns today’s massive movement of migrants and refugees. Stakes are high as activists, policy-makers, opponents, and migrants themselves ask by whom and how boundaries should be controlled or policed. What is involved in crossing boundaries, both for those who cross, and those in the host territory? What are the losses, what are the gains? Are host locales enriched by new energies and new compassions, developing new versions of identity and purpose? What are the ethics of hosting that might diminish or even negate the hierarchy of ‘host’ and ‘intruder’? Are nations and their citizens morally obligated to accept the influx of migrants and refugees, just as practitioners of particular disciplines may be obliged to accept the contributions of ‘outsiders’?
We invite colleagues to reflect on the act of trespassing and examine it as an intellectual, scientific, artistic, political, social, cultural or legal act. We also invite you to trespass in your questions and design. What obstructions do trespassers encounter, whether from colleagues, citizens or others who claim ownership? What does trespassing disrupt in one’s own well-honed practice or sense of the familiar? What is damaged and what is generated? And finally, how is trespassing transformed into collaboration and remapping, finding neighbors, colleagues and compatriots in new versions of home?
The Interdisciplinary Studies Institute is a faculty forum for discussion and engagement across the disciplines. Each year the focal point of our activity is a seminar organized around a specific topic. No matter your field, period, cultural focus, discipline or perspective, we call on colleagues from the humanities and arts to the social sciences and sciences to bring your own inspiration to our theme and tell us how you would like to approach it. We invite you to submit a proposal setting out your particular interests. All fellows will receive a $1500 research allowance.
The proposal should describe in 1-2 pages the nature of your project and how you would present it to the seminar. The proposal should be accompanied by a copy of your c.v. The 8-10 fellows who are selected will meet at regular intervals during the academic year to discuss presentations from each seminar member in turn (each fellow presents once). Among the obligations of the group will be a capstone event at the end of the year. Meetings are on Fridays at lunch, so you must be free at that time. Proposals should be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, February 29th, 2016.
For more information on the seminar or ISI, please contact the Director, Stephen Clingman, at email@example.com or see our website at www.umass.edu/isi. Major funding for ISI comes from the Provost, and the Deans of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, with additional funding from the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences.