The Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs and for the Humanities, 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.
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, one launching in September, the other in January. 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 in a dedicated space outfitted for the lab. 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 lead 2-point practicums associated with the undergraduate course(s). These practicums include both experimentation and field-work outside the classroom, thereby providing undergraduates with experiential learning.
The year ends with an event hosted by the Center for the Humanities. The team is also expected to disseminate the H-Lab’s findings.