© photo by Jeff Day

Bennett-Polonsky Humanities Labs

What is an H-Lab?
Watch this short film by Scarlett Li to learn more.


OVERVIEW: The Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and the Center for the Humanities have launched the Bennett-Polonsky Humanities Labs (H-Labs), a collaborative, interdisciplinary research and curricular initiative. Drawing on the lab model from the sciences and the studio model from the arts, H-Labs offer new opportunities for humanities-centered inquiry with an ethos of experimentation, creativity and cross-disciplinary knowledge production. The goal is to create shared spaces, both real and virtual, where faculty, students and humanities practitioners from different fields come together to tackle big questions or explore timely ideas of import.

The H-Lab model is unique in the Humanities insofar as it leverages the various kinds of exchanges – both formal (organized discussions, presentations of work-in-progress) and informal (shared readings, open bookshelves, whiteboards) – that lab spaces make possible, in order to produce rigorous, engaged, collaborative, public-facing scholarship. This work may eventually take form as a single-authored scholarly article or monograph, the most common way that academic knowledge is disseminated, but potentially also a number of other forms, such as co-authored, cross-disciplinary articles, a website, short documentary, oral history, or countless other forms of scholarly intervention. Humanities Labs are also unique in the immediacy with which they integrate research and curriculum, bringing of-the-moment research into both graduate and undergraduate classrooms.

NYU’s H-Labs are made possible by a generous grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett in honor of Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE.

ELIGIBILITY: All full-time faculty on continuing contracts in the Humanities and the Arts at NYU are invited to submit proposals for a program of collaborative and interdisciplinary research. Partnerships with faculty in other disciplines and schools are encouraged, as are partnerships with outside experts, practitioners or groups.

H-LAB ACTIVITY: H-Labs are year-long, intensive collaborations involving both faculty and students from different disciplines across the university. Two H-Labs are active each year. Lab concepts are proposed by self-assembled groups typically consisting of four or five faculty members from several disciplines and schools, and possibly also one or two humanities or arts practitioners. Concepts are broad-based, touching upon the complex experience of being human in today’s world and demanding investigation from a multitude of directions and approaches.

H-Lab teams consist of the faculty member organizers and a small group of graduate students, also from a variety of disciplines. Each team should have approximately 10-12 members and will meet (at a minimum) on a weekly basis over two semesters. Faculty members receive a course reduction, with funds provided to the home department in support of replacement teaching, as needed.

In the first semester, the team discusses and analyzes readings, poses questions, proposes and carries out conceptual experiments, gathers data, and effectively functions as a research team, with members working both collectively and individually. This activity may be set up as a graduate-level course, for which graduate lab members would receive credit.

In the second semester, in addition to continuing to meet as a research team, H-Lab faculty members team-teach one or more 4-point undergraduate courses on the lab’s theme, thereby bringing research immediately into the undergraduate curriculum. Graduate student lab members function as teaching assistants. The undergraduate course should include both experimentation and field-work outside the classroom, thereby providing undergraduates with experiential learning.

FUNDING: Proposals selected will receive up to $50,000. Budgets may include the following:

  • One course release each for up to four participating faculty members. Each release to cost no more than $7,500 and be paid to the faculty member’s home department when teaching replacement is secured.
  • Up to ten summer or J-term graduate student stipends of $1,500 for each graduate student who wishes to devote that time to research related to the H-Lab topic.
  • Funds for graduate students to work as teaching assistants.
  • Funds to pay for research materials, software, web development, invited speakers, events, or other goods or services that facilitate the lab’s research program and dissemination of findings.

DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS: In addition to the undergraduate course that runs during the lab’s second semester, the findings of each lab are presented publicly. This may take any number of forms, including one or more of the following:

  • Articles in peer-reviewed journals
  • Articles in the popular press
  • An edited collection of essays
  • Public events or presentations
  • Additional graduate or undergraduate courses
  • Films, podcasts or other media
  • Conference presentations

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Please note that this program is not currently accepting applications as we have reached the end of the funding cycle. We hope to have news about the program’s next phase soon.  

APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS: Proposals should include the following:

  1. A cover sheet with the name of the proposed lab, the names and department/program affiliations of the lab team, and a project abstract.
  2. A short narrative (3-pages maximum) of the H-Lab project, detailing its intellectual significance and laying out the ideas, problems or questions to be explored by the lab and the methods for doing so. The narrative should provide intellectual justification for the proposed H-Lab, addressing the contributions it hopes to make and indicating how the findings will be disseminated.
  3. Descriptions of H-Lab course(s):
    • Graduate Course [OPTIONAL]: If the first semester will be set up as a graduate-level course, so that graduate lab members may receive credit, please provide the course title, names of instructors, sponsoring department, and a brief description of course content. This graduate course is OPTIONAL – it is intended to offer credits to participating graduate students if needed, not to structure the lab or determine its activity.
    • Undergraduate Course(s) [REQUIRED]: Provide the course title(s), names of instructors, semester offered, and a brief description of course content developed from the lab’s first semester findings. Students enrolled in the course are expected to participate in research, analysis and present their findings in the final course project. Please describe the practical components of the course through which students will gain experiential learning.
  4. A budget of no more than $50,000. Please indicate whether the lab will be able to draw on any additional funds (e.g., through existing projects or grants, department funding, etc.), or if there will be a need/opportunity to raise additional funds.
  5. Brief statements of support from faculty members’ Department Chairs. These should indicate approval of any possible course releases under the terms outlined above.

APPLICATION REVIEW: Proposals will be reviewed by a committee comprised of senior faculty. Committee members will be asked to rate proposals based upon the following criteria:

  • The potential and/or need for the proposed topic to be investigated through multiple disciplines; its engagement with diverse fields and methodologies.
  • The soundness and rigor of the scholarly research supporting the proposal and of the pedagogical approaches deriving from it.
  • The originality of the approach and the extent to which it leverages NYU’s and New York City’s assets.
  • The experience of the team (faculty leads, graduate students, people from outside NYU) as well as their potential for intense, collaborative work; the team’s ability to foster interdisciplinary conversations.
  • The lab’s capacity to engage graduate students as both lab researchers and teachers.
  • The lab’s capacity to integrate the research of the lab into NYU’s undergraduate curriculum through existing or newly-created courses, as well as to 2-point practicum courses.
  • The lab’s potential for public engagement and for generating projects that will put humanities theory into practice.
  • The likelihood of a significant contribution to the fields the lab engages.

MORE INFORMATION: The Bennett-Polonsky Humanities Labs are a unique opportunity to engage in open-ended, interdisciplinary and collaborative research. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact the Center’s Associate Director, Molly Rogers, for an informal discussion about the program’s requirements.