Elizabethtown College fills the gap in interdisciplinary learning
When business leaders discuss skills of recent college graduates, they note creativity and critical thinking as areas of weakness, yet these abilities are imperative in the workplace when bringing together people from different backgrounds, learning disciplines, cultures and nationalities.
Interdisciplinary learning—connecting similar or dissimilar subjects—readies graduates for the workplace by broadening their immediate scope of knowledge. Biologists, for instance, need a working understanding of chemistry, physics and psychology. Even deeper discovery comes from studying subjects that, traditionally, are not linked–computer science and English literature, for instance.
With this concept and the 100th anniversary of World War I in mind, Jesse Waters, director of Elizabethtown College’s Bowers Writers House, gathered 13 professors from across campus to guest lecture on the war. Each brings the view from his or her individual discipline.
(Interdisciplinary studies) cultivates the inner narrative that helps us all become global citizens.”
Unique in its structure, the one-credit course, “Cultivating an Inner Narrative: WWI, an Exploration,” explores WWI’s obvious connections to history and politics but also examines contributions from chemistry, women’s studies, religion and music, to name a few.
“I am really excited because there really isn’t an opportunity like this at any college in our region,” said Waters. “I have always been a big believer that a liberal arts education should be interdisciplinary. Even as a student, I saw connections in different subjects to other classes.”
Each of the 13 guest lecturers volunteered to participate, Waters said, noting the importance of the challenge and the forwarding their own lifelong learning goals.
“It’s a really stimulating way to deliver material to the students, to get different views and different perspectives,” said Douglas Bomberger, who focused his interdisciplinary instruction on the music of 1917, just as the United States entered the war.
Teaching about music brings history into focus on a more personal level, he said. Soldiers identified with and were inspired by wartime songs, cadence and bugle calls.
The most familiar song of the time, ‘Over There,’ written by George M. Cohan, was originally sung by Nora Bays in 1917. WWI also was the first time jazz was recorded, and American music traveled across the globe with the Harlem Hellfighters, a National Guard Unit from New York made up mostly of persons of color. “It was a period in time that forced change,” Bomberger said.
In addition to musical advancements, Waters noted that WWI was instrumental in highlighting women as pioneers of medicine and technology, and the war utilized chemistry through the use of mustard gas. “It was the first time soldiers were issued gas masks,” he said.
WWI also was the first time soldiers came home with addictions.
Matthew Smith, a first-year history major who enrolled in “Cultivating an Inner Narrative” this past semester, is as excited to learn about the war from the perspective of other lecturers as he is to learn the history, he said. “So far, the class has covered a wide range of topics and, looking at the upcoming lecturers, there’s still so many more interesting ones to come.”
Smith underscored the importance of interdisciplinary study in any major, noting how it allows students to broaden their scope of understanding.
“Your first thought might be that the sciences, the humanities and the arts are three mutually exclusive realms and schools of thought. This isn’t true. … (Interdisciplinary studies) cultivates the inner narrative that helps us all become global citizens.”