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UC Berkeley


Research Fields

This website identifies several Research Fields that have been of wide interest to students in the past. It is also possible for students to pursue Research Fields other than those listed on the program website in consultation with ISF faculty and academic advisors. Research Fields should not replicate an existing major. Instead, the proposed Research Field must be interdisciplinary, integrating approaches from at least three academic disciplines (departments or programs).

A viable Research Program is more than a topic or theme: it consists of an interdisciplinary inquiry that requires engagement with both theoretical scholarship and empirical studies. A student’s Research Program consists of a proposed Course of Study (at least six courses in three departments or disciplines totaling 20 units) and a tentative topic of a Senior Thesis. The Senior Thesis is not a summary of the Research Field but an attempt to contribute new knowledge on a focused question, using primary sources when possible, within a Research Field.

The Research Program should have the additional following qualities:
1. It cannot replicate any existing major at UC Berkeley, nor should it be a field of study that could be better pursued in an existing major, including American Studies, the Haas Undergraduate Business major, or Psychology. ISF does not allow students to escape prerequisites in existing majors or to pursue by other means a major into which the student could not gain entry, including Economics and PE. ISF can be part of a double major, but it is not a minor.

2. The Research Program must show how different disciplines and methodologies will have to be mobilized to contextualize and answer the problems posed in a specific Research Field. It must, in short, be interdisciplinary, drawing on methodologies, concepts, and research designs from at least three disciplines of the social sciences and/or humanities.

3. The Research Program should yield questions that are possible to answer (in the context of the Senior Thesis) using accessible and appropriate research materials and data. Students are not required to identify definitively a Senior Thesis when they apply to the program, but they should have a good sense of their likely topic, method, and kinds of sources to be used in the research.

The ISF field major is designed to provide students with a research-driven liberal arts education. It is a problem-based program, not a discipline. It is home to student research in the social sciences and humanities that is inherently interdisciplinary and comparative; grounded in time and place; with historical depth and perspective. Each major is built around a Research Program, which includes a Course of Study and a Senior Thesis. Students accepted into the ISF program pursue Research Programs that formulate and begin to address significant research problems in the social sciences and humanities from an interdisciplinary perspective. ISF encourages students to identify their Research Program in international, transnational, global, or comparative dimensions, and at the same time encourages students to think concretely about their Senior Thesis as work that will be grounded in time and place. The research problems chosen must be part of an academic and scholarly conversation or controversy, but can include practical steps to address the problem in question.