What would draw together a group of seven college professors, from a variety of academic disciplines, to discuss a single theme?

At Whitman, the answer is the college’s Global Studies Initiative, and specifically the fall Global Studies Faculty Seminar. For three hours each Thursday, seven faculty members convene in seminar rooms and living rooms to explore global issues with the aim of also developing globally focused cross-disciplinary courses and events.

Funded by a $345,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Global Studies Initiative, now in its third year, is comprised of annual faculty seminars, symposia that engage the Whitman and Walla Walla communities, and workshops and course development exercises – all focused on incorporating global issues, perspectives and critical analyses into Whitman’s liberal arts curriculum. This year’s Faculty Development Seminar is on the broad theme of global spectacles and centers on books selected by participants on wide-ranging topics that include, among others, theories of globalization and enclosure, the scientific spectacles of colonial empires, global criminal networks in the 21st century, religious pilgrimages and contemporary art.

“The fall seminar is seven professors sitting in a room, three hours a week, talking about a variety of extremely interesting texts through the lens of globalization,” said Bruce Magnusson, associate professor of politics and director of the Global Studies Initiative. “As faculty in a liberal arts college, it’s important for us to keep expanding our own learning universes — which ultimately enhances the courses we teach and the overall campus environment. This is one effort to do so.”

In addition to the exchange of ideas, information and diverse perspectives, seminar participants collaborate in a number of ways to plan and implement global studies activities for the academic year. They participate in the annual Global Studies Symposium in February – this year’s topic is Global Media and Global Spectacles – in which invited external speakers from different disciplines, along with Whitman student and faculty respondents, are invited to address a particular theme. Each year, four of the seminar participants are also charged with developing two team-taught, cross-disciplinary syllabi for courses to be taught in the coming years.

Other seminar participants plan and lead a summer workshop for up to 10 additional faculty members. Participants in these one-week workshops are chosen from across the college, with an emphasis on professors whose teaching and research may or may not ordinarily include global themes, but who are interested in engaging with global issues.

 “The most recent summer workshop was led by several faculty members who participated in last year’s Global Studies Seminar and involved readings and discussions on various global themes — tailored to the interests of participating faculty — as well as conversations on the possibilities and challenges of working across disciplines,” said Shampa Biswas, associate professor of politics and the first director of the Global Studies Initiative. “Participants were drawn from all three divisions of the college, and discussions revealed some very interesting possibilities for collaborations across the humanities, sciences and the social sciences.”

Further enhancing Whitman’s Global Studies Initiative is the annual series of visiting educators made possible by an endowment from Ashton ’43 and Virginia Graham O’Donnell ’43. O’Donnell Visiting Educators lead courses or workshops from their perspective as “ global practitioners” from a variety of professions – such as diplomacy, business, social movements, development, the arts, medicine, government, and international and non-governmental organizations – and are in residence for periods ranging from a single day to an entire semester. This year’s O’Donnell educators include John MacAloon, who has spent his professional and academic life working with the international Olympic movement, along with his duties as an associate dean at the University of Chicago, and Magnus Isacsson, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and educator.

Magnusson explains the value of the seminars and the initiative simply: “Many contemporary issues cross borders in ways that defy national or disciplinary definition. We often view the world through a lens of separate sovereign countries, but important events, issues, ideas and debates are rarely so confined. Climate and environmental change, poverty and wealth, the economy, religious practices, migration, war, disease, artistic expression and even nations themselves all have global dimensions that are  important for understanding these phenomena.”

For more information on Whitman’s Global Studies Initiative, click here.

For more information on 2010-11 O’Donnell Visiting Professors, click here.