Junior Yale College faculty honored for interdisciplinary teaching

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Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway will host a dinner on Dec. 11 to honor the recipients of the annual Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching. The award was established to recognize and enhance Yale’s strength in interdisciplinary teaching. It provides support for distinguished junior faculty in interdisciplinary fields to conduct essential summer research.

Citations for this year’s winners follow:

Joshua Billings, assistant professor of classics and humanities, brings together in his classes works of classic Greek tragedy, French Neoclassic tragedy, French Neoclassic theater, German Neoclassic work, film and music, while also moving between the genres of drama, philosophy, and criticism. An exceptionally productive scholar, Professor Billings has in only his third year of teaching brought out a free-standing book, “Genealogy of the Tragic (Princeton); edited or co-edited three other volumes; published 10 articles, five of them peer-reviewed; and published eight reviews of major books. His new interdisciplinary project, on the nature of representation in and around the Athenian crisis of the fifth century B.C.E. and the Peloponnesian War integrates history, philosophy, drama, and music, and promises to be a significant contribution to literary and cultural studies.

Emily Coates, lecturer in theater studies, teaches courses in and leads the program’s dance and choreography curriculum. Her scholarly and creative practice — drawing as it does on film, visual art, science, and cultural history — brings an interdisciplinary approach to her teaching. In her own courses, she introduces a range of major choreographers to her students, who then select and stage a key work. Through her collaborations with faculty in other fields, she trains students to explore connections between dance and other domains of knowledge. Her “Physics of Dance” course, taught with Professor Sarah Demers of the Department of Physics, is one of the most popular courses in both departments and has led to a book, now under contract by Yale University Press.

Bella Grigoryan, assistant professor of Slavic languages and literatures, teaches courses in 18th- and 19th-century Russian literary civilization, examined against the backdrop of Western European literature and culture. Her teaching not only traverses national traditions and historical periods but also focuses on literary works through a lens shaped by a cross-disciplinary approach. Under her guidance, students explore the evolution of storytelling as traced from the “Odyssey to contemporary Russian short fiction and American radio; they examine the relationship among economic forces, cultural conditions, and literary forms; and they study the Bildungsroman as a specific, organizing literary type for narratives of European modernity in the 19th century.

Andrew Johnston, assistant professor of classics and history, teaches courses on classical literature and history, approaching his subjects by integrating history, anthropology, political science, and literature in a way that teaches students about the world in which they live. He also trains students to draw on the university’s many resources, among them the Coin Room, the Yale Art Gallery, and Beinecke Library, where they study papryi first hand. He is an active member of the Council of Archaeological Studies, serving for the past three years as field director for excavations in Italy at the ancient Latin site of Gabii and leading Yale students, both undergraduate and graduate, who conduct summer research there. His colleagues, in recognizing the value of his teaching, go beyond praising it for being interdisciplinary; they call it “spectacular.”

Albert Laguna, assistant professor of American studies, fosters in his classes on literature and culture an interdisciplinary approach that draws on the social sciences and the humanities, and addresses an array of topics, including migration, language, style, and performance. His seminars on Latina/o New York and Cuban America use novels, poetry, essays, music, film, and television to investigate local and transnational history, politics, and culture. As his students read these texts closely, they learn to discern the connections between the aesthetic and the political, and they bring together critical race theory, performance studies, and theories of the ludic. He has also distinguished himself as one of the most sought-after mentors to both undergraduates and graduates.

Paul Sabin, associate professor of history and director of undergraduate studies for Yale’s environmental studies major, integrates the humanities into interdisciplinary environmental studies, approaching environmental challenges as fundamentally social and political, not just technical and scientific. His lectures range from the impact of diseases like smallpox and yellow fever to the process by which grain and lumber become marketable commodities, integrating the insights of economics, ecology, medicine, anthropology, and law. His scholarship bears out this interdisciplinary approach, most recently in his book “The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future(Yale University Press, 2013), which weaves intellectual biographies of the biologist Paul Ehrlich and the economist Julian Simon into the history of late 20th-century environmental politics.

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