What do you know about ILA?

Jenna: Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to intersect medicine, architecture, and law all into one? The affects that Women have on music and the media? Have you ever desired to intertwine social sciences, biology, and history all into one? At its inception, Emory’s Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts was considered a bold academic endeavor, and had been among the nation’s first graduate programs within humanities devoted to the new trend of interdisciplinary studies. The year was 1952, and the program’s chief architect was Emory’s new Vice President and Dean of the Faculties Ernest C. Colwell, an Emory graduate and former president of the University of Chicago, who had emerged as an early leader in the field of interdisciplinary education. This program was recognized as “a major step in the program to extend and enrich the graduate study at Emory,” according to the Emory Wheel. Sixty years later, the drive to pursue research that transcends conventional academic boundaries is still going strong, says Kim Loudermilk, a senior lecturer in the ILA and director of the program in American Studies, who is working on the history of the program. That unique intellectual environment, nourished by faculty representing a wide array of disciplines, is what first drew Loudermilk to the program, in a quest to examine the relationship between social movements, such as feminism, and the media. Today, we are going to teach our friend Sandro about all the unique opportunities this program has to offer. 
Hunter: Hey Sandro, what’s wrong?

Sandro: Nothing. I don’t want to talk.

Jenna: Sandro, please, I hate to see you so upset. What is wrong?!

Sandro: Well, you see, I can’t seem to find an area of study at Emory that satisfies my specific interests. I don’t want to be constrained to one specific major or minor!

Hunter: Well, have you ever considered Emory’s ILA Program?

Sandro: No, what’s that?

Jenna: ILA is Emory’s Institute for Liberal Arts.

Sandro: Well, I don’t know if I’m liberal, and I definitely don’t like arts.

Jenna: Haha. The ILA Program, or Institute for Liberal Arts, maintains two unique majors that you can only find here at Emory: IDS and AMST. These are the only two majors which allow students to structure their own program of study around a field of interest that they define through more of a humanities perspective. Students are in close consultation with faculty experts from different disciplines who have specific training in interdisciplinary study. As part of these Majors, students are permitted to take courses in a number of departments, provided they meet appropriate departmental prerequisites.

Sandro: So how to the IDS and AMST majors work?

Hunter: Well, You get to choose a set of courses from across Emory College that will constitute part of your major requirements (24 of 44 total required credits); This is called a “student designed concentration,” and the courses you propose are your Concentration Requirements. Senior projects tend to draw upon two or more disciplines you’ve studied with involvement of scholarly research – 50 pages is typical. Essentially, your senior project is a thesis that culminates all of your research, in order to demonstrate your ability in organizing complex ideas. However, your thesis can be composed of other forms of scholarship as well, anywhere from artistic expression to other forms of broader public engagement. Examples of this have included films, art exhibitions, or teaching in local public schools.

Sandro: Would students be given advice on types of courses to major in?

Jenna: Yes, the courses you choose for this major are definitely not random or made without the aid of expert advice. An ILA advisor will discuss with you your intellectual interests, helping you to focus on an interdisciplinary research question (or range of questions) that will be answered across your years at Emory College. It’s really an opportunity to engage in multiple particular disciplinary interests, in order to shape your own educational experience which is unique and distinctive to you.

Sandro: Okay, that actually sounds pretty cool. What are some examples of interdisciplinary questions studied by students?

Hunter: Some proposals focused on by students include: how social assumptions about artists relate to the visual art produced by the artist, how Native American leaders and writers understand and portray science -especially biology- and even how FDR’s experience with polio changed public support for medical research within the United States.

Sandro: So you’re telling me my range of possible questions can be as broad as my imagination? That’s just not safe.

Jenna: Yes, Sandro – Because interdisciplinarity involves applying two or more disciplinary methodologies, your ILA adviser will also put you in touch with other Emory faculty experts to assist in articulating your interests and selecting relevant courses that might be part of your major. Early on, you’ll identify a faculty “co-adviser,” in addition to your ILA adviser, just to ensure that you can be well supported through your academic decisions.

Hunter: Let me tell you about my buddy Kevin..

Sandro: (cuts him off) What’s his last name? I might know him.

Hunter: McPherson.

Sandro: No, I don’t think I know him.

Hunter: Anyways, Kevin is very academically minded and loves to study various subject matters. He is double majoring in ILA and Biology. He became interested in Native American alcoholism from various readings he did outside of class. ILA permitted him to study Native American alcoholism through a humanistic approach, while Biology allowed him to expand and comprehend on the scientific aspect as well. Kevin was not only able to study a blend of philosophy, history and literature in order to find how that all pertains to alcoholism, but also what he gleaned from his studies of scientific literature as well. His intertwined writing of Native American alcoholism helped him receive prestigious awards, one of which entails extensive research at Stanford University.

Sandro: Oh, yeah. His name rings a bell. But dude, I want to make money. What can I even do with an IDS or AMST major?

Hunter: You see, since students study a field they are intrinsically passionate about, businesses are more inclined to seek out their style of learning and knowledgeable experience. Students of the IDS and AMST majors, like our buddy Kevin, have worked for Google, Amazon and many other awesome firms within the Atlanta area. Many alumni are still doing fascinating things, such as serving as museum directors, becoming involved in politics in Hollywood, working in academia as professors and administrators, and one alum is even president of the United Negro College Fund. Also, students commonly continue onto the Law School or other graduate programs thereafter. A key advantage that former students of ILA have gained over students from other majors is held within the strength of their letters of recommendation, especially from teachers with whom they have collaborated with extensively.

Sandro: Wow! The ILA program seems just right for me! I wonder why Emory doesn’t promote this graduate program in the way that it promotes the Med School and other graduate schools. This program is very unique to Emory, and seems like it can provide the type of academic diversity that would help Emory take itself one step ahead of its competition. What draws students is the ability to examine or explore an idea or question or problem that cannot be addressed through one discipline alone. I believe they should discuss this program in tour groups and stress it elsewhere, perhaps even while meeting with your Pre-Major Advisors. Doing this may assist Emory in receiving more creative and passionate students who maintain a drive to do something different, but are limited by many other institutions’ academic limitations. Prospective students may find it important that one building home to a diverse professors, all with a passion to study vastly differing subjects held at ILA students’ fingertips. Other students may be impressed that at such a large institution, there is a major with a significantly finite community. However, some may be excited to have the ability to create their own curriculum, in order to further study their own curated academic passion. If these prospective students are never informed of the ILA program, they may never apply to Emory, simply because they deem it to not have what they’re looking for. The ILA is a perfect demonstration of the multitude of academic opportunities at Emory, and how there is simply a learning style for everyone.

Jenna:  If education is really an intrinsically risky enterprise, because of its focus on the need for transformation, then we need to be open to the discourses of constantly changing times and the unexpected conversations that threaten to turn everything we thought upside down. We should not give up music, insight, conversation, or public scholarship. We should leave room for growth upon the free state of education and the liberal arts. As time goes on, it seems that the problems we face as a society are becoming more and more complex, and the questions we need to ask become more difficult to answer from merely one perspective. The interdisciplinary work and training that the ILA provides teaches us how to do just that: approaching the problems of the world from multiple perspectives. The ILA seems to partially mirror Emory as a university, but also a specific reflection of its deep and broad history.

In fact, the ILA was instituted as a graduate doctoral program 60 years ago, when not many doctoral programs existed at Emory. It was founded primarily on the basis of a felt need for living conversation among literature, philosophy, religion, theology, and history. A little later this conversation expanded to include public scholarship and the social sciences, especially in response to the movement for civil rights in higher education, linking Emory with historically black institutions in Atlanta and beyond. Gradually, the ILA became the unique interdisciplinary institute it is today: a hybrid departmental home for many interrelated programs, faculty, and students. It now comprises a graduate interdisciplinary program with a broad range of focused interests, including American studies, science and society, history of medicine/science, race and difference, visual studies, interdisciplinary humanities and critical studies, and some outstanding certificates and other programmatic concentrations. Above all, the ILA is an institute, rather than a department, that fosters existing and new initiatives that cross traditional disciplinary for new possibilities within our university – a laboratory for a deeper sense of intellectual community.

ILA Program

If you would like a more detailed analysis of the history of ILA you can look at all of it on the following website:  http://ila.emory.edu/about/history/index.html

Contact Information: 404.727.7601 / lyterry [at] emory [dot] edu


By: Jenna Gursky, Hunter Goldberg, and Sandro

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