From methodology to metaphor

Mount Allison English professor Janine Rogers has a passion for interdisciplinary collaboration that is reflected in her research, which encompases both literary and scientific fields.

  Last Thursday, Rogers gave a lecture titled “The Nature of Knowledge: the Shared Material Life of Science and Literature” in Brunton Auditorium. In addition to teaching, Rogers also holds the Reverend William Purvis Chair in English and has won multiple awards for her teaching and her research, which straddles both literary and scientific fields. Most recently she received the Paré Medal, an award given annually to a Mt. A faculty member who has demonstrated outstanding teaching, research and scholarship while maintaining an excellent record of service.

Where science and art meet: biology student sally faulkner gives fine arts student Izzy Francolini a tour of joggins on class field trip. Adrian Kiva/Argosy
Where science and art meet: biology student sally faulkner gives fine arts student Izzy Francolini a tour of joggins on class field trip. Adrian Kiva/Argosy

“A lot of my research uses literature to look at the natural world…bumping up against what other people consider as science or the scientific enterprise,” Rogers said. In her lecture, she discussed the diverse range of her current research projects and the importance of interdisciplinary work in both an academic and global context. “We’re living in this time where we’ve forgotten some of [this] history that joins disciplines together…[when actually,] at their root, they’re engaged in the very same end-product,” she said.

Central to Rogers’s lecture was the point that people working in the humanities need to appreciate the scientific side of beauty in the world, while people in the sciences need to recognize that the humanities can make these issues more easily accessible to the general public. She emphasized the value of interdisciplinary cooperation by applying it to her connection to scientists in the community. “I think I could only develop this [ research and success] at a place like Mount Allison, where it’s small enough…I actually know people who are biologists,” she said.

Mt. A’s academic and social environments  encourage and cultivate interdisciplinary exploration. An increasing number of students are choosing to pursue interdisciplinary degrees.

Fifth-year student Jessica Hawkes is doing a double degree in English and biology. “The variety keeps things interesting,” Hawkes said. “I find it helps you to look at things with a unique perspective.”

“[An interdisciplinary degree] opens up a realm of context and understanding that I might not have had otherwise in my English classes. I find biology is usually interesting to apply to poetry,” Hawkes said. “And the English degree is useful for the biology degree because it’s made me a better writer and better at conveying ideas.”

This summer Rachel Thornton, a Mt. A BFA graduate, facilitated Camp Cyanotype. Part botany-for-amateurs club, part art-making workshop, the camp’s motto  is “Art, Science, and Magic.”

“There are benefits to these sorts of interdisciplinary projects because [they] benefit broad explorations of a topic without the limitations of a particular discipline’s boundaries,” Thornton said.

According to Rogers, interdisciplinary work is a necessary tool to target the current ecological crisis. “These types of disciplinary practices are complementary…We need all of our resources right now, intellectually, to deal with this [crisis],” Rogers said.

She closed by saying, “All of my projects are collaborative because I need [other people’s] expertise…my biggest challenge is knowledge and this is where my colleagues are so generous in sharing their knowledge with me.”

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