New Humanities Courses Experiment with Teaching Methods

This spring, students will be able to explore the intersection of the humanities, technology, and design in two new humanities studio courses intended to combine traditional seminar teaching methods with hands-on studio work.

The two courses—Humanities Studio 1: "Cold Storage—An Interactive Documentary Project" and Humanities Studio 2: "Homeless Paintings of the Italian Renaissance: A Hands On Curatorial Experiment"—are among a series of new courses launched this spring that are not affiliated with a single department.

“We are part of this broad movement in the humanities, the digital humanities, in which researchers are applying new emerging kinds of research methods,” Matthew Battles, associate director of the the Harvard metaLAB, said. The metaLAB is a humanities research laboratory that includes faculty who are working with students in the studio courses.

Students in "Cold Storage" will focus on documenting and analyzing the Harvard Depository through video production and website design, while students in "Homeless Paintings of the Italian Renaissance" will develop an animated archive of lost Renaissance paintings.

According to Jeffrey T. Schnapp, the professor of both new courses as well as faculty director for the metaLAB, the studio classes will be open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Humanities Studio
Jeffrey T. Schnapp, professor of romance languages and literatures, speaks about a collective learning experience in visual art during his new course Humanities Studio 2: "Homeless Paintings of the Italian Renaissance" in Boylston Hall on Jan. 29.

“They aren’t courses that presuppose a set of skills or involve prerequisites,” Schnapps said. “I like to describe them as translational courses where you acquire a set of skills, you acquire knowledge, but right from the beginning you have to translate that knowledge into hands-on forms.”

Schnapp said 11 students shopped "Cold Storage" on its first day, Tuesday. Both courses will be capped at 18 students.

“It’s an experiment stage, to test the waters, see what works at the end of the experiment,” Schnapp said.

Battles said the courses will be graded on a letter scale and students will be evaluated primarily on class participation and projects.

“The grading will be based not on any particular fluency in Photoshop or Javascript, but rather with the ability to come to grips with new materials, to identify problems, analyze those problems,” Battles said.

Both studio courses have been approved and financed under the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, an initiative to promote innovative teaching methods.

According to Battles, the studio courses will provide fluid interdisciplinary curriculum that meets the aims of HILT and will accommodate changing teaching methods.

“We’re in the midst of rapid change, changes in educational experience and participation, changes in institutional forms, and changes in technology,” Battles said, noting that the structure of the new courses is yet another progression in teaching methods.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at mbernhard@college.harvard.edu.

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