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‘An intellectual ferment’

Nexus Centre established in Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Campus and Community

By Janet Harron

Nexus is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a connection or series of connections linking two or more things; a connected group or series; a central or focal point.”

It’s a good jumping off point to describe the Nexus Centre.

The centre has been established to foster collaborative and interdisciplinary research in the humanities and social sciences at Memorial University, in the wider academic community and in the public realm.

John Sandlos in the Nexus Centre in the Arts building.
John Sandlos in the Nexus Centre in the Arts building.

Historian John Sandlos is the director of the Nexus Centre, which is housed on the fourth floor of the Science building.

He firmly believes in its mandate to promote the humanities and social sciences as vital knowledge for understanding the past and for navigating the issues and the challenges of the present.

“I had been inspired by spending a year on sabbatical as a fellow at the Rachel Carson Centre. I saw what an interdisciplinary research centre could do to inspire research activity and engage people around particular research themes and just bringing people together,” he said. “I felt it was a new challenge that would be fun for me.”

Dr. Sandlos graduated from an interdisciplinary faculty of environmental studies at York University where there were no departments. The arrangement resulted in bringing together variety of scholars at various types of forums and public events.

He believes the Nexus Centre can overcome departmental boundaries, which he considers primarily administrative rather than academic.

“I see the Nexus Centre as a means of creating an intellectual ferment and a stronger sense of mission for the faculty,” he said, adding he hopes another impact of the centre will be to promote the humanities and social sciences overall.

“Because, let’s face it, scholarship in the humanities and social sciences tends to be seen as less important than in the hard sciences.”

Variety of disciplines and backgrounds

The Nexus Centre’s website features the faculty’s first podcast, Crosscurrents, the inaugural edition of which features an interview with Drs. Danine Farquaharson and Fiona Polack about their work studying petrocultures and their project, Cold Water Oil.

The website also features a blog, Back Eddies, links to films created by faculty members and a listing of interdisciplinary research groups, networks and initiatives within the faculty.

Nexus is hosting a regular colloquium on a variety of topics, a graduate student writing session on the first and third Tuesday of every month, facilitated by Dr. Sandlos and Dr. Katherine Side and will also be the home of the Aboriginal Speakers and Medieval Series.

To date, colloquiums on urban planning and climate change have included participants and attendees from a variety of academic disciplines and backgrounds, including members of St. John’s city council.

Stephanie Tucker, communications and marketing co-ordinator, Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labrador, attended the most recent colloquium, Climate Change Impacts: From Mitigation to Adaptation, on Nov. 7.

“As a local, not-for-profit organization with a mandate to support youth and the environment, the Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labradors strives to maintain a whole-view and current perspective on the complex issue of climate change,” said Ms. Tucker, who attended the event with several of her colleagues.

“The Nexus Centre is a space for us to connect with Memorial University’s students and researchers to broaden our understanding of this multi-faceted issue, as we learn from climate change researchers in a dynamic range of areas from sociology to geology to economics. We hope to visit the Nexus Centre regularly and continue our lifelong learning.”

Towards interdisciplinarity

Students are also being actively encouraged to use the Nexus Centre in order to bring disciplines together and work towards interdisciplinarity.

Scott Coleman is a fourth-year honours history student who believes all disciplines can help each other grow and understand the world we live in.

He plans to organize an undergraduate conference housed in Nexus, which will allow undergraduate students to present papers and develop presentation skills.

“The event will help students see the advantages of co-operation between disciplines and therefore advance their own education goals,” said Mr. Coleman.

The Nexus Centre is located in SN-4022 of the Science building and can be followed on Facebook and Twitter. Those interested in keeping up to date on the centre’s activities are encouraged to subscribe to its listserve.

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