Interdisciplinary teaching and research in global contexts
A defining feature of interdisciplinary education and research is its interest in the context in which problems emerge, are investigated and taught. In contrast to the abstraction and reductionism that defines many academic endeavours, interdisciplinarity (and transdisciplinarity) embraces explicitly the contextualized nature of most real world problems. Obviously, contexts differ in scale and can be defined at microscopic or macroscopic levels: chemical properties are influenced by molecular configurations, for example, organic functions by bodily states, individuals by their societal environments, public health by geographical and climatic conditions and cities by their global connections.
Amsterdam in a global context
Amsterdam is a city for which this global influence has certainly had a big impact. Hosting the 2019 annual conference of the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies, we invite our interdisciplinary colleagues to consider specifically the global contexts of their endeavours. Geographically, Amsterdam is at the crossroads of various global influences as it is the combined result of ancient glaciers, changing ocean and sea levels, global climate change and human engineering. Historically, Amsterdam was perhaps globally the most important capital during the Golden Age of the Dutch republic, in the 17th century. As such it has partly shaped the face of our modern world, in all its ambiguities: with its relatively open and tolerant cultural climate, Amsterdam was an important center of entrepreneurial and cultural initiatives which were also associated with colonial activities that have increasingly come under fire. Scientific, philosophical, religious, political, cultural, artistic and other exchanges were variously supported by private citizens and authorities. This has led to works like those of Rembrandt and Spinoza, to the development of the microscope and the first laws of warfare, to a relatively modern republic democracy, to the first issue of ‘bonds’ that could be traded, and many other developments that have shaped our contemporary world.
Although Amsterdam has perhaps lost its position of global prominence, it is still a diverse, open and global city, maintaining many of its historic characteristics: the world’s first gay marriage was conducted here in 2001, for example. Being a global city implies nowadays as well that many current global challenges surface in Amsterdam as well, like the economic crisis, religious strife, pollution, public health problems and climate change. Indeed, since cities are home to more than half of the world’s population and the multinationals, universities, cultural movements, and other centres of activity they inhabit, such problems are in many ways produced and experienced in urban environments. At the same time, these are also the prime incubators of potentially important new ideas, connections and initiatives that could help to mitigate these problems. It is therefore unsurprising that this global context has shaped much of the education and research programs of the two universities and several professional schools in Amsterdam, many of which are interdisciplinary in their approach. This holds for the conference hosting Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (offering for example programs in Natural & Social Sciences, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Future Planet Studies, Big History and Forensic Science) as well as for the larger University of Amsterdam (whose research priority areas include Cultural transformation & globalization, Global health and development, and Urban studies) and other institutes, like the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions.
In other words, we hope and expect that the city of Amsterdam can inspire participants of the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies conference to present and discuss their work, and to exchange ideas and experiences with interdisciplinary education and research, while taking especially into account the global contexts in which these figure.