'Trespassing:' ISI Announces Call for 2016-2017 Fellows

Faculty Seminar 2016-17: Call for Applications


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 by Monday, February 29th, 2016.

For more information on the seminar or ISI, please contact the Director, Stephen Clingman, at or see our website at 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.

Interdisciplinary Studies Institute: Director and Board Members
Stephen Clingman, ISI Director, Department of English
Lee Badgett, Center for Public Policy and Administration
Janice Irvine, Department of Sociology
Lisa Henderson, Department of Communication
John Kingston, Department of Linguistics
Randall Knoper, Department of English
Kathleen Lugosch, Department of Architecture
Banu Subramaniam, Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies

ISI Hosts "Forty Years After" Symposium to Commemorate Achebe's Lecture and Legacy

On October 14-15, the Interdisciplinary Studies Institute hosted the symposium, "Forty Years After: Chinua Achebe and Africa in the Global Imagination" to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Achebe's famous "Image of Africa" lecture. The lecture, which was originally presented as a Chancellor's Lecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was subsequently published in the Massachusetts Review and has since become celebrated and iconic: a remarkable moment both in literary criticism, and in a broader cultural assessment of how AFrican has been perceived and represented in the Western world. 

The symposium brought together speakers and panelists to discuss the impact of Achebe's lecture and its continuing legacy, commemorating the event and bringing the discussion into the present. Over the two days, approximately 500 people gathered in attendance to hear the speakers and panelists, which included Denja Abdullahi, Jules Chametzky, Johnnetta Cole, Achille Mbembe, Maaza Mengiste, Okey Ndibe, Chinelo Okparanta, Caryl Phillips, Esther Terry, Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, and Chika Unigwe. Dr. Chidi Achebe, Chinua Achebe's son, spoke about his family's time in Amherst, and many others recalled Chinua's kindness, vision, and lasting influence. 

A short video, featuring interviews with some of the speakers, can be found here, courtesy of the Department of News and Media Relations at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

ISI Selects Eleven Fellows for 2015-16 Faculty Seminar on “Secrecy, Publicity, Privacy, Security”

Eleven faculty members have been chosen by the Interdisciplinary Studies Institute (ISI) as fellows for its 2015-16 seminar on “Secrecy, Publicity, Privacy, Security.” The fellows will approach the theme from a variety of perspectives, ranging from the humanities to geosciences, computer science to finance. Each fellow will receive a $1,500 research allowance and participate in a yearlong faculty seminar.

Faculty Seminar 2015-16: Call for Applications

The ISI has chosen the theme "Secrecy, Publicity, Privacy, Security" for its 2015-16 faculty seminar. In taking on these terms, the ISI is drawn to a quadrant of concerns that may be read in various combinations and various ways. In this, we are of course engaged with the present, from issues of surveillance and the dark rooms of power, to practices of unmasking its operations. But we are also interested in these questions across various times, places, disciplines, creative practices, and approaches. Secrecy, publicity, privacy and security are key concepts that apply in a wide range of environments, making their discussion especially well suited for an interdisciplinary investigation.

We encourage applications by faculty across campus, no matter their discipline. As many former ISI fellows will attest, the ISI experience is at once integrative, creative, scholarly, collegial, and lively. All our selected fellows will receive a $1500 research allowance. For a full description of the theme and guidelines on how to apply, please continue below. Applications are due at by Monday, March 2, 2015.

Tanisha Ford Awarded Best Article Prize

Former ISI fellow Tanisha Ford was awarded the A. Elizabeth Taylor Prize for the best article on southern women's history from the Souther Association for Women Historians. Ford was recognized at the organization's annual meeting in Atlanta, on November 13-16. Her award-winning article, "SNCC Women: Denim and the Politics of Dress," was published in the Journal of Southern History in August 2013. An announcement of Ford's award can be found here from the Women in Academia Report's website. 

Banu Subramaniam Publishes Ghost Stories for Darwin

ISI board member Banu Subramaniam published Ghost Stories for Darwin: The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity with the University of Illinois Press in October. The book brings together her work on flower color variation in morning glories and the feminist studies of sciences. The interdisciplinary book bridges the social history of plants, women's studies, evolutionary and invasive biology, and the history of ecology. Donna J. Haraway comments that Subramaniam's book "destabilizes the old exchange rates and proposes instead a wealth of narratives and experimental conceptual and laboratory practices for doing evolutionary biology, ecology, and women's studies together." The book can be found here

Albie Sachs Delivers Remarkable Talk To Standing-Room Only Crowd

On September 10, Justice Albie Sachs delivered a remarkable talk to a standing-room only crowd in the new Integrative Learning Center building. Drawing from his life experiences of involvement in South Africa's ANC during the struggle against Apartheid, his exile in Mozambique, and his later appointment by Nelson Mandela to the Constitutional Court, Sachs kept the audience rapt with his storytelling as well as his dry wit.

The talk, titled 'The Value of Values: Lessons from the South African Transformation,' was directed at value and values which are at the heart of ISI's theme for the year. Sachs touched on issues that ranged from same-sex marriage and sexual equality, the death penalty, and revenge and vengeance.

During his visit to UMass and in addition to his talk, Sachs met with the current ISI fellows, conducted an interdisciplinary mixed graduate and undergraduate seminar. More photos from his visit can be found on our gallery


The Interdisciplinary Studies Institute has chosen the theme "Value" for its 2014-15 faculty seminar. "Value" is one of our keywords, easy to say and to claim, though almost impossible to pin down in its complexity and range all the way from the most material to the most ethereal. Yet, has there ever been a society where questions of value have not been front and center, both foundation and purpose, assumption and teleology, a matter for dispute, conviction and doubt? As a term that has been construed in so many different forms in so many different contexts, it is an ideal topic for interdisciplinary investigation. Read on for a list of this year's fellows.

Albie Sachs To Give Lecture at UMass

Called "arguably the world's most famous judge" in The Guardian, the famed South African judge Albie Sachs will give a lecture on September 10 at Umass at 4 p.m. in the new Integrative Learning Center, room south 331. Sachs's lecture will be on "The Value of Values: Lessons from the South African Transformation" and will inaugurate this year's ISI theme, "Value."