The historical evolution of interdisciplinarity: 1900-2008

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Since the beginning of the 1990s, interdisciplinarity has often been promoted as a value in itself assuring either a superior kind of knowledge or a better way to tackle important social problems, viewed as always tresspassing disciplinary boundaries. But beyond the unending debates surrounding the definition of terms, like multi- inter- and trans-disciplinarity, the hard question remains: how can we measure interdisciplinary practices? The obvious way from a bibliometric point of view is of course to look at the pattern of journal citations. Though limited, this indicator at least provides a first empirical measure of the links between disciplines and specialties. Most papers on this topic however have analyzed only the recent period, usually after 1980. Thanks to the existence of the “Century of Science” database of Thomson-Reuters, we can now look at the long-term evolution of interdisciplinarity over a century and see if we can observe paterns. For the domains of the natural sciences and engineering (NSE) the data suggest a movement of opening up of the major disciplines to contributions from other disciplines over the period 1900-1945, followed by reinforcement of disciplinarity between 1945 and 1975, followed again, in the recent period (1975-2008) by a movement towards more interdisicplinarity. In biomedical sciences, the period 1945-1975, saw a followed since then by a continuous rise of interdisciplinarity, that is, a tendency for most disciplines to open up to other disciplines. The talk will discus the data, as well as the link between interdisciplinarity and scientific impact, in more details and suggest possible interpretations of the trends observed.

This content has been updated on June 2nd, 2017 at 14 h 21 min.