Asking Eric Posner about President Obama's use of executive discretion. A conversation with Rosanna Warren on poetry as history. Hearing Alison Winter explain the unusual source materials she discovered while studying memory. Any one of these conversations could be the highlight of a graduate-level course. For students to have multiple opportunities—one every week for a quarter—is an extraordinary circumstance, but it happens in the graduate seminar that is a signature project for the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture.
Since 2008, Eric Slauter has organized and taught the "Multidisciplinary Study of American Culture" seminar to graduate students in humanities, social sciences, divinity, and law. Each week participants discuss a newly published work with its author—all of whom are UChicago faculty. Over the course of the seminar, participants read economic studies, anthropological accounts, literary analyses, and more.
“It’s good for students in literary studies to meet students from anthropology or history or music history, and it’s good for all of those students to see the kinds of questions faculty in different areas are asking,” said Slauter, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Scherer Center.
The course models the multidisciplinary approach fostered by the Scherer Center, which cultivates relationships between scholars through lectures, conferences, and symposia; together, these events generate public discussion on every aspect of American culture. Many of the faculty members who participate in the seminar also give a related public lecture on their research, illustrating the intersection between a scholar’s recent work and future endeavors.
The seminar has now taken place six times, sponsored two dozen public lectures, and hosted nearly 50 different UChicago faculty members. In Autumn 2014, when the seminar was last offered, participants engaged with the work of Alison Winter; Rosanna Warren; Michael Dawson; Agnes Lugo-Ortiz; D.N. Rodowick; James Heckman; Eric Posner; and Joseph Masco.
“I took away from the seminar a deeper understanding of the diversity of Americanist scholarship, especially as practiced at the University of Chicago,” said Matthew Boulette, a graduate student in English. “I also have a better grasp on the publication process in different fields, the lines of intellectual affiliation that cross between departments, and the strategies used to structure an argument.”
“Most of the materials were not those with which I would have otherwise engaged because many of them were outside my field and areas of interest,” said MAPH student Ikumi Crocoll. “While I found this fact intimidating at times, I learned throughout the course to treat such moments as opportunities to challenge myself.”