Being a Renaissance Wo/man: Modern education, interdisciplinary research and a multidisciplinary life
An engineer-scientist-painter-sculptor-inventor? That is an impressive, if disparate combination and of course describes Leonardo Da Vinci. From religious art to human anatomy to bicycles, Da Vinci had rather multidisciplinary interests. He is the eponymous Renaissance man. Merriam-Webster defines a renaissance man, sadly with no equivalent definition for a renaissance woman but let’s assume they are one in the same, as someone who has “wide interests and is expert in several areas”. In Renaissance Europe, being an academic was not the sole propriety of the scientific discipline. Rather a rounded education resulted in great inventors also being master artists. Fast forward 500 years and this archetype is virtually unknown, what would such a rare creature even look like in today’s academic world?
…in modern education…
The modern Renaissance person would learn about a variety of subjects, equally applying their interests in various scientific and artistic pursuits. Transferring this concept to North American post-secondary education, students would study sciences like chemistry, mathematics, biology but also perhaps theatre, art history and English literature. Not to mention the numerous other disciplines ranging from beer brewing to environmental archaeology. Though I would argue that one would be infinitely more interesting while consuming the products of the other. Basically this person would acquire at least a base knowledge in several different disciplines. This can happen, especially in universities like my own with a focus on interdisciplinarity, but is not the rule for the majority of academics (Castán Broto, Gislason & Ehlers, 2009).
…in academic research…
In academic research, there is a special application of the Renaissance perspective, namely interdisciplinary research. Defined, varyingly in sources, as collaborative examination of a research problem from two or more disciplines (Choi & Pak, 2006). In this concept the researchers are not themselves Renaissance men but rather they take a Renaissance-like perspective on the problem at hand. The goal is to understand the research question in a more holistic way (Choi & Pak, 2006). The problem with applying Renaissance ideals to research is it clashes directly with university structure. We become increasingly specialized through Masters and Doctorate degrees, limiting our perspectives but becoming experts in one particular field (Castán Broto, Gislason & Ehlers, 2009). In this current structure, understanding where another discipline may add to our research is complicated. Science has greatly evolved since the 16th century; modern technology is difficult to keep up with within my own field, let alone understanding the context of another discipline. Therefore to examine an issue from multiple perspectives requires immense time and effort (Lélé & Norgaard, 2005). Interdisciplinary research teams are just beginning to chip away at the possibilities.
…in academic life…
What about beyond the doors of the university? What does a “true” Renaissance man or woman look like? A quick Google search for modern renaissance men and women produces many actors and a few academics. The criteria seems a bit confusing as I think many would agree Justin Timberlake wouldn’t be their first choice. According to this quiz I am “Totally Renaissance”, I must be doing something right. In this category being a Renaissance person is, well, personal. What we consider to be different and interesting is up to the individual. Someone who loves jazz and molecular biology is as much “Renaissance” as someone who studies anthropology and has an active interest in feminist literature. In the classical sense, your interests should include some kind of art as well as science (“Renaissance man”, n.d.). Where those lines are drawn is up to you, no pun intended.
…as an ideal.
In the end, what ideal are we working towards by being Renaissance? Da Vinci was no doubt a genius, but is being a Renaissance wo/man a goal in itself? What inherent value is there in having multidisciplinary interests? With research the benefit is clear, we can see a question in new and potentially more accurate ways. From a personal perspective, having an interest in theatre, sociology and chemistry may help you approach your research in innovative ways and perhaps improve your life.
A self-described epidemiologist-pianist-film fan-amateur archaeologist-photographer-travel enthusiast-home cook-general geek-voracious reader-graduate student.
- Choi, B.C.K. & Pak A.W.P. (2006). “Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity in health research, services, education and policy: 1. Definitions, objectives, and evidence of effectiveness.” Clinical and Investigative Medicine, 29, 351-364.
- Lélé, S. & Norgaard, R.B. (2005). Practicing interdisciplinarity. BioScience, 55(11), 967-975.
- Renaissance man. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/renaissance%20man
- Castán Broto, V., Gislason, M. & Ehlers, M.-H. (2009). Practising interdisciplinarity in the interplay between disciplines: experiences of established researchers. Environmental Science and Policy, 12(7), 922-933.
- Leonardo da Vinci (1452 -1519). (n.d.) Retrieved February 2, 2014 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/da_vinci_leonardo.shtml
The thought of getting entertained and educated at the same time excites me. Very often, I experience one over the other. But on those occasions that I am entertained and learn something new at the same time, I tend to remember those things a lot better.
A couple of weeks ago, I watched a social documentary called “The House I Live In”, which advocates for a deeper and critical analysis of drug laws within America’s justice system. It addresses an important public health issue that affects many people. After watching the film, I couldn’t help but feel empowered in some way and ready to make a change. I’m not sure how much I can really do as one individual but I was very enlightened after leaving the theatre.
The point is, I was definitely entertained and educated.
Check out the trailer for the film:
All of this got me thinking about the importance of entertainment education and how it relates to issues of public health.
What Is Entertainment Education (EE)?
Entertainment education, as its name suggests, is all about educating people through some form of entertainment. In this case, it’s all about educating people about health issues but in an entertaining way. In essence, entertainment education is a communication strategy for social change.
– places educational messages into popular entertainment
– raises awareness
– increases knowledge
– motivates people
– changes attitudes
– often leads to social action (KFF, 2004)
More and more public health organizations in the United States are using entertainment education as a form of health communication. EE can be conducted by health agencies or anyone who has the means to influence media and/or has a personal concern for a health issue. Hollywood-based organizations are often involved in the U.S. when it comes to entertainment education. (Check out Hollywood, Health, & Society at http://hollywoodhealthandsociety.org/)
Entertainment education is often a complement of the work being done by NGOs, the government, etc. It serves as an alternative means of health communication. Television (e.g. soap operas, reality shows, sitcoms, etc.) is the main source of entertainment education in the United States (KFF, 2004).
Shows such as “Friends” emphasized the issues surrounding unplanned pregnancies while “Lizzie Mcguire” (a favourite of mine!) looked at issues of self-esteem. Whatever the specific medium may be, health-related messages have been incorporated into the media for a long time and continue to be. All of this is entertainment education.
Check out the following video from the WHO’s Entertainment Education Project:
Other examples of EE include the movie “Contagion”, which I watched in a class last semester. It also left me educated and entertained. I didn’t realize until then how powerful the incorporation of health-related messaging into the popular media could be.
Whether we notice it or not, health messaging and entertainment education is all around us, even while we’re watching that late-night sitcom to release the stress of our daily lives.
Some examples of issues that EE works on,
The Art of Storytelling
Tell A Story. Change The World.
Storytelling is extremely powerful as it forms connections between ideas and presents them in a way that is appealing to the senses. Narratives help make sense of the things that people encounter in their everyday lives; they are invaluable in presenting ideas and provoking thought about a variety of issues.
Story-telling is an intrinsic part of human beings. We have been “hardwired” to engage in storytelling to create meaningful interactions. It’s no wonder then that storytelling is such an important aspect of entertainment education and public health.
From the WHO video above, “Entertainment education is as old as storytelling itself. As long as humans have told stories, they have taught lessons as well.”
Storytelling as the root of entertainment education is an aspect that I find very appealing. Storytelling is also about presenting information in a creative way. In my opinion, entertainment education is about the capacity to portray important health messages in uniquely creative or creatively unique ways. Infusing socially-relevant issues into media communication is an excellent way of getting the message across and getting people to think. I don’t know about you, but the next time I see anything on T.V. or at the movies, I’ll definitely be paying attention to any health messaging that may be shining through.
For more information, see:
Kaiser Family Foundation (2004). Entertainment Education and Health in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/entertainment-education-and-health-in-the-united-states-issue-brief.pdf
– Misha B.