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Humanities PhD program: Still ahead of its time

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by Eugenia Xenos

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Concordia's Humanities Doctoral Program was the first program of its kind in Canada, and remains one of the very few.

It allows students to work across interdisciplinary boundaries, as they choose a major from one of the humanities, social sciences or fine arts, and two minor disciplines, from any field.

"It certainly was an idea ahead of its time," said Philosophy Professor Stanley French, director of the program from 1992-95, and one of its founders. "Even now there are no such doctoral programs in Canada or, to the best of my knowledge, in the United States. There are a few interdisciplinary Master's programs -- at York, Western, Trent, for example -- but none at the doctoral level."

The program admitted its first students in 1973, one year before the merger of Sir George Williams University and Loyola College (which did not have graduate programs) to form Concordia. It grew out of the Departments of English, Philosophy and Sociology in the early 1970s, with Neil Compton, then chair of English at Sir George Williams, as the driving force.

Compton enlisted French, who was then chair of the SGW Philosophy Department, and John Jackson from Sociology. "We all felt that there were certain types of problems or certain questions that could only be adequately dealt with by the application of the tools of more than one discipline," French said.

"Loyola had many first-rate scholars, so after 1974, Loyola faculty contributed greatly to the program. In fact, one of the most popular fields in interdisciplinary study has been Communication Studies (which is located only at Loyola)," he said.

The program started off intentionally small, admitting an average of two students per year. But when Education Professor Joyce Barakettbecame director in 1986, she decided to "put the program on the map." Aggressive advertising and hard work signing up faculty to volunteer to supervise students paid off. By the time Barakett had left in 1991, the program had become much more firmly established. It now admits six to 10 students per year.

Among other universities, graduates of the program now teach at McGill, Queen's, York, Ottawa, Carleton, Trent, British Columbia, Los Angeles and Georgia.

The program's current Director, Sherry Simon, said, "One of the most exciting new developments in the program has been the increasing number of students developing connections between creative work in music, visual arts and the humanities. Many of the students are doing truly innovative work."

To celebrate its anniversary, the Humanities Doctoral Program will be holding a curated group exhibition of students' recent studio work until September 26 at the VAV Gallery (1395 René Lévesque W.). Called "Doctorings: Studio Work Informed by Interdisciplinary Scholarship," it includes interactive and sound installations, video, web site design, and painting installation. A closing event will be held in lieu of a vernissage between 3 and 6 p.m. on Saturday, September 26.

Also on September 26, a debate and colloquium on "Performing Interdisciplinarity" will be held at
1 p.m., VA-114, 1395 René Lévesque W. There will be a keynote speaker, Sneja Gunew, and a panel of Humanities graduates. Students will also be performing jazz music. For more information about these events, call 848-2095. For three examples of student research, see page 7.

Copyright 1998 Concordia's Thursday Report.