Interpolating and Extrapolating

Another way to think about the development of your response is to consider the concepts of interpolation and extrapolation. To interpolate is to bring external ideas to a text so that these external ideas inform, enlarge, elucidate, or even refute the text. To extrapolate is to take what you learn in one place or one text and apply it to a different context, one that perhaps seems to bear little resemblance to the original context.

Example of Interpolation and Extrapolation

Consider an example of Sally Smith, college student. She is taking several humanities courses and has recently learned in a philosophy course that a human's interpretation of experience can vary widely and according to the cultural background and context of the person. Among other things Sally is studying in this philosophy course are Native American representations of the relationship between humans and the earth. At the same time Sally is assigned to read and respond to Moby Dick along with selected secondary sources for her American Lit class. She finds that none of the assigned secondary sources was written from a Native American perspective.

As a point of fact, the philosophy course and Native American culture really have no direct relationship to Sally's American Lit course, but she sees a relationship between what isn't being discussed there and what she is learning in another class. Further, she feels she has been changed by studying a non-European way of looking at and living in nature, and she believes her audience might be newly informed themselves if she were to bring something of her new perspective to her response paper. Increasingly she believes that she can't ignore her increasingly sophisticated ways of viewing the world, is gaining confidence as she learns and connects her learning among classes. As a matter of course, then, Sally finds she can't help but "extrapolate" some of this new-found knowledge, as she reflects upon the novel from what she thinks would be a Native American perspective, or at least as close as she can come to that from her admittedly limited knowledge. During a discussion period of the literature class Sally finds herself wondering how differently the discussion might go if a Native American perspective were articulated.

Sally is extrapolating, applying newfound knowledge to a novel situation.

Then comes the next step, the paper Sally must write. As she applies her newly informed knowledge of the sacredness of non-human living things to her response to Moby Dick (and its secondary sources) she is interpolating, bringing an external idea into the text she's studying. Perhaps she even winds up questioning how "American" this American classic is.

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