The program now known as Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities was founded and first chaired by Norman Maclean, known most widely for his novella A River Runs Through It. It was instituted from the beginning as a major in which a student could design an individual course of study which was supervised individually by a faculty member. Each student constructed a plan of courses in the major that formalized a diverse set of interests—interests that might have been discovered while moving through the general-education requirements of the College’s famously deep Core. In short, the idea of an interdisciplinary major was made necessary by the breadth of learning that defined an undergraduate education at Chicago.
Early on, as General Studies in the Humanities, the program naturally came to attract students whose interests fell outside of the terms in which the other academic departments of the University operated in that era. These included the study of film, and of theater and performing arts—both areas of study which GSHum professors and students in fact introduced to the University. Chairpersons starting from the 1970s include Janel Mueller, Herman Sinaiko, David Bevington, and Malynne Sternstein. At around the turn of the last decade, GSHum was renamed ISHum in order to emphasize what is unique about the program: the expectation that students will synthesize their own understandings from their experience of a set of academic disciplines that do not necessarily think about one another.
The focus on theater among ISHum students led last decade to the creation of Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) as a sub-department of ISHum. TAPS has now grown to be a separate academic unit, and students who are interested primarily in the study of theater and performance are encouraged to apply there. ISHum still welcomes students who wish to correlate an interest in theater and performance with other academic interests, as we welcome interdisciplinarians of any stripe.