The birth of science in its modern form beginning in the seventeenth century was immediately literary. Descartes’s Discours de la méthode masquerades, after all, is an autobiography, and scientific poetry quickly became a vehicle for presenting scientific theory, fading from importance as an identifiable genre only at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Literary texts not only reflect the scientific culture of their day, they work on and rehearse concepts that can become operative in the theories at the cutting edge of scientific discovery (the fields of the visual, of thermodynamics, of genetics, of biology in the nineteenth century, or of relativity, of information theory, of microbiology in the twentieth century). Technologies of writing, communication, publishing, and media are closely tied to modalities of artistic production. How do aesthetic objects like texts and images interact with the sciences and technologies that produce them? How are the particular “eras” of cultural production related to the scientific discoveries of given historical periods?
Several faculty members in Romance Studies are engaged in research and teaching on science as a pursuit of knowledge (from scire, "to know") that has only recently become firmly divided from humanistic pursuits of knowledge through technologies, methodologies, and segregated research and publishing spaces. How can we update discourses on consciousness through literacy in imaging epistemologies? Are "mirror neurons" a neuronal investigation of representation that has previously mainly been considered in relation to literary and art forms? Through undergraduate, graduate, and working group structures, Romance Studies students can develop their science-related interests in conjunction with research being carried out in geographical locations in which Romance Languages are spoken.
From David Bell's work on tact and tactile sensory perception to Deborah Jenson's course "Flaubert's Brain: Neurohumanities," Romance Studies students are encouraged to explore contemporary intellectual configurations in the sciences as domains of philosophical articulation of questions related to organic being. How can we compare neuroimaging-based interrogation of motor and social imitation at the University of Parma to explorations of imitation that have emerged from literary and critical groups? How is the specialized attention involved in critical reading skills illuminated by recent studies of attention and literacy? Why is the study of genetics increasingly prominent in English departments, while la critique génétique in France refers to something entirely different? Through working groups such as the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences/Franklin Humanities Institute "Neurohumanities Research Group," Romance Studies encourages science/humanities collaborations, above all as related to evolving centers of philosophical inquiry in Romance Language environments and traditions.
Romance Studies also involves increasing use of multimodal expression of research processes and products. Faculty and students work in blogs and digital mapping as well as print culture articles and books. Our close association with the Center for Instructional Technology (CIT), Information Systems and Information Science (ISIS), Art, Art History, and Visual Studies, and the Duke libraries, makes it more possible than ever before for doctoral students to engage in experimental uses of technology for research and pedagogy. Anne Garréta teaches classes on video games; Anne-Gaëlle Saliot's work on Avant-garde cinema brings forward the technologies of the narrative through filmic montage; Helen Solterer assesses a long durée view of performance technologies. Interested in simultaneously literary and visual representations of the human body? Consider Valeria Finucci's "Animated Anatomies" project, or members of Duke's medieval and renaissance studies "Cities" project. From art exhibits (Laurent Dubois, Esther Gabara, Walter Mignolo and others) to projects like the caribbeancholera.org map of 19th century Caribbean epidemics, or Meg Greer's use of Google Earth to expand our understanding of Golden Age theater, Romance Studies embraces problem-based research in multiple media.