The title of our S-GIG not only signals our focus on mercury as a hazard but also suggests the ways in which our project encourages collaboration across borders – international and academic.
With faculty from biology, sociology, art, film studies, and history who teach undergraduates and graduates at William and Mary’s Williamsburg campus and VIMS, our group crosses several academic borders. At its heart, our project creates an interdisciplinary portal through which to explore environmental hazards that transcend international boundaries and to instill stewardship and appreciation for the environment. The topic of mercury, often associated with chemistry classes, provides an opportunity to reveal the social, cultural, economic, and policy implications of science; science is not just contained within the border of a laboratory nor are laboratories separate from society and politics. Included in our planning group is a visiting scholar from China, and faculty within the group have active contacts with Japan and South America. Clearly our S-GIG creates exciting global research collaborations and extends the curriculum at William and Mary beyond its geographic borders. Our focus on mercury pollution provides a way to promote research projects, courses, and public events that emphasize the global nature of mercury hazards and how they touch all disciplines and everyday life.
Research means more than sitting in a library with primary sources or manipulating data in a laboratory. Research includes questioning, designing, creating, evaluating, and presenting; research may lead to a paper, an art object or film, an oral history. On one level, research, to be of value, must be communicated to people beyond the boundaries of the discipline in which it is conducted. To reach a global audience, new publishing models must be explored.
These expanded definitions of research, by their very nature, invigorate the curriculum and classroom teaching, in part, by connecting material to real-world events. According to a recent Tomorrow’s Professor article (#804), “multidisciplinary courses have made students more aware of the role their work can play in tackling global problems.” Our world will benefit from students who can see beyond their own cultural boundaries and who can work collaboratively.
Public events will blur the boundaries between college and community, faculty and student to create news ways of thinking about communicating scientific and discipline-specific information to a wide audience. We acknowledge that there is no “THE public”; instead there are many audiences. Through collaborative events with different “communities” or “publics,” we hope to encourage a respectful acknowledgment of different ways of knowing mercury and knowing the world.