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Challenging Ideas and Scientific Curiosity: Pilot project for DIAS 2021-2022 

DIAS is SDU’s most ambitious initiative. Ambitions of cross-disciplinary and groundbreaking research call for critical assessment of how we organize research. In other words: How do we in DIAS develop challenging ideas and stimulate scientific curiosity? 

We want to initiate an ongoing discussion on this through

  1. a (permanent) series of DIAS workshops on ‘out-of-the-box-thinking’ including also the important links between arts, humanities, social and natural science.
  2. to prepare an application for a research project within this field in 2022.   

We focus on three specific set of questions:

a) The art of cross-disciplinarity: Perspectives and challenges of cross-disciplinary encounters when arts, humanities and social sciences are involved with other sciences 

b) The art of science: How engagement between artists and scientists can challenge scientific conventions

c) The art of imagination: How the power of representation leads to advancements of knowledge.  

Over the last decades, cross-disciplinarity has become a key concept at universities and research funding agencies. Cross-disciplinarity can take many different forms: dialogue and discussions across established disciplines, borrowing theories and methods from one discipline into another, or cross-disciplinary team’s cooperation on solving specific academic puzzles.

All of these are important, however as many scholars have experienced ‘deep’ interdisciplinary cooperation is often hard to archive. 

There are several reasons for this:
) academic careers are built on employment in disciplinary departments (making the crossing of disciplines risky especially for young researchers),

2) disciplines are built on different identities and visions on science. This was laid out in C.P. Snow’s famous essay (1959) on the “two cultures” in academia as well as in biologist Stephen Jay Gould’s posthumous essay ‘The Hedgehog, the Fox and the Magister’s Pox: Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities” (2003).

3) There are significant translation costs as different disciplines are dependent on different concepts and speak different languages. The classical divide between quantitative research (the language of mathematics) and qualitative research (the language of letters) are one prominent example.

As society’s’ call for interdisciplinarity have increased, the interest in understanding the practical challenges of interdisciplinary cooperation have developed including very interesting work such as sociologist Michelle Lamont’s book on ‘How Professors Think’ (2011) or the anthology, Evaluating Interdisciplinary Research: a practical guide (2015), edited by physicist Tom Mcleish and the anthropologist Veronica Strang’s anthology.    

The ambition with this initiative is to establish a strong dialogue within DIAS on interdisciplinarity in order to pave the way for more interdisciplinary cooperation. Beyond supporting more bottom-up cooperation, we also plan for submitting a research proposal on interdisciplinarity. 

The proposed workshop series will, however, not only take it points of departure from research on interdisciplinarity (as mentioned above). It will also take inspiration from concrete historical examples.  

Since antiquity art and science have been closely intertwined. In ancient Greece one and the same word was used for art and technical sciences (techne) and music was conceived of essentially in terms of mathematical relationships. Modernity is no exception.

Suffice it to think of the friendship between H. C. Ørsted and H. C. Andersen shortly before  the ‘modern breakthrough’ in Denmark, or of the work done by physicist Lene Hau and Olafur Eliasson with light, or else of the cooperation between author and visual artist Amalie Smith and the British 19th Century mathematician Ada Lovelace.

The examples are manifold: the dialectic of the Canadian astronomer Rebecca Elson's (1960-1999) studying the dark matter of the universe while writing poetry; writers and scientists were equally involved in the renowned British Bloomsbury Group, meeting regularly to exchange ideas.

Equally imagination is not something confined to literature, but has shaped and shapes, as has been repeatedly stressed by critics, our knowledge of the past, which is otherwise grounded in a rigorous examination of the available material and immaterial sources.

It is no coincidence that historians have not rarely turned into novelists, or, conversely, that podcasters and docu- and drama filmmakers often rely on heavy historical research. On the other hands, great economists, such as Piketty, do not refrain from using fictional novelistic material as reference in their work.

As one part of the project, we would like to investigate the possibility for funding a DIAS Writer or Artist is Residence to further facilitate links between science and art. 


As a consequence of the above reflections, we are planning for two types of initiatives: 

Internal DIAS workshops of interdisciplinarity focusing on cooperation in the broadest sense. This would include smaller and more informal events such as: 

1) joint reading of key texts (such as the ones mentioned above) and presentations of fictional and cli-fic texts, prepared by the already planned Book Club (Yazell and Petersen),

2) joint discussions on specific scientific problems (from climate change, over the three body problem to the importance of ideas and imagination),

3) invited talks on interdisciplinarity (for example from IAS elsewhere or researchers with experience or funding agencies)

A series of DIAS seminars on ‘Scientific Curiosity and Innovative Ideas’ 
This latter initiative offers a platform for DIAS to present its ambitions and share its work with the ‘broader SDU’ as well as the general public. We aim at presenting 2-3 (2-hour) seminars pr. Semester. 

Concrete plans for the first semesters include:

  • a) Tangled up in Bob Dylan - using his songs and artwork as inspiration for research;
  • b) A new view of nature - the friendship between Ørsted and Andersen as a source of innovative ideas;
  • c) Towards a new economy - Thomas Piketty's ideas and use of art in economic analysis;
  • d) Exchange of knowledge in the history of science;
  • e) Imagining the past and future: representation in history and science;
  • f) The first computer thoughts - stories about the mathematician Ada Lovelace's new ideas;
  • g) Social Sciences and the Literary (in form and content). Consumer culture under the poetic lens of sociology and the sociological lens of poetry.  

Finally, based on the discussions in the workshops and seminars we will approach Danish Foundations (such as Velux) with respect to an application for funding on “The Art of Inter-Disciplinarity” to be submitted ultimo 2022.  

Organization, milestones, and time line 

Applicants: DIAS Chairs Lars Boje Mortensen (History), Søren Askegaard (Marketing & Managment), Anne-Marie Mai (Literature), Professor Klaus Petersen (History), DIAS Fellows: Bryan Yazell and Aglae Pizzone. The planning committee will be open for other DIAS scholars. 

Project period: April 2021 to December 2022 

Milestones and output: 

Virtual research seminars: First seminar April 2021, 1-2 seminars pr. semester, last seminar December 2022 
Lectures: 1-2 lectures pr. semester (as part of the DIAS Lecture Series) with leading international scholars in the field 

DIAS cross-disciplinary workshops: 1-2 pr. semester (flexible formats) 

Report for DIAS director: December 2022 including a DIAS policy paper on organizing inter-disciplinarity research 

Submission of research application for VELUX Ultimo  2022: P1: Professor Klaus Petersen and Anne-Marie Mai (and possibly other DIAS chairs) 

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