Academic journal article Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

Defining Subject Boundaries in Interdisciplinary Bibliographic Work

Academic journal article Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

Defining Subject Boundaries in Interdisciplinary Bibliographic Work

Article excerpt

Bertrum H. MacDonald is the Director of the School of Library and Information Studies, Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University. David Kaunelis was the Researcher for the Information Diffusion in Scientific Research in Canada project and is now Acting Library Director at Lyndon State College, Lyndonville, Vermont. An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Bibliographical Society of Canada at its 1995 Montreal conference. Research for the project on which this paper is based has been supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada research grant (#410-94-0566).

Everyone who undertakes a bibliographic project must at some point consider a number of important design elements, among which is the significant issue: What is the subject, or as it is sometimes phrased, What is the scope? In many cases, the answer to this question is arrived at with relative ease, at least in defining the core of a study. Challenges arise, however, when one considers the perimeters. In recent decades, as subject boundaries have become less pronounced and increasing attention is given to interdisciplinary work, demarcating the subject limits of a bibliography or database tests a designer's competence. In the words of D.W. Krummel, it is here that `special efforts are needed to keep the subject to its proper focus.' (2)

In this paper we address this problem by examining recent developments in interdisciplinary studies from the bibliographer's point of view. The complexity of the matter, exhibited in the design of a specific bibliography on the history of Canadian science and technology, allows us to set out methods for dealing with the problem of subject limits and to consider some of the ramifications of these techniques. There is little doubt that in the context of contemporary interdisciplinarity these methods will receive increasing attention and application.

The Recent Development of Interdisciplinary Studies

Even though interdisciplinary studies can be traced back many decades, their widespread occurrence is a recent development. As the century unfolded people became more knowledgeable or inquisitive about a particular subject, and found that the topic's specialized core did not completely satisfy their demands. So they broadened the initial subject area, branching out in an attempt to encompass and synthesize related areas of knowledge into their original domain. The field of geography offers a good illustration of this evolutionary process. Originally starting out as a branch of geology, geography was later seen as `occupying an intermediate position' between the natural and social sciences, (3) and is now recognized as being highly complex with connections to the fields of anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, demography, psychology, and history. (4) This example makes clear that a natural consequence of the advancement of interdisciplinary work is the interweaving of subject areas which are themselves continually expanding and evolving. The complex interdisciplinary information network, with which we are all familier, is the outcome of this convergence of subjects. (5)

Interdisciplinarity within academic fields became increasingly `commonplace,' especially after the Second World War. (6) In 1990, J.T. Klein, author of Interdisciplinarity: History, Theory, and Practice, described this growth as `a subtle restructuring of knowledge . . . rooted in the ideas of unity and synthesis, evoking a common epistemology of convergence.' (7) More recently M. Maisel in a discussion on the electronic listserv, Darwin-L, commented that at least in the sciences there is now `a revisioning and reevaluation of the weights and interconnections and potentials of all fields.' Maisel claimed that interdisciplinary research is going on everywhere, along with the `creation of enormous numbers of ad hoc committees to review subjects not recognized in curricula, all the "X-Studies" that live side by side now with the Ur Disciplines. …

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