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The Humanities Lab

My article came out today in Inside Higher Ed. It's entitled "We Need Humanities Labs". Although it is a bit tongue-in-cheek to suggest the idea that those in the humanities need to gather in "labs", I believe that more interaction and collegiality would improve the quality of the academic experience for grad students and also increase their creativity and productivity.

I wrote it in response to the epidemic of lonely, isolated, or even abandoned graduate students that I have talked to, heard about, and read about, mostly in the humanities. I find it interesting that one of the comments to the article stated that maybe "isolation is good for you." The writer went on to say that it might be help you with independent thinking not to interact with others in your field as often as weekly. As that writer is far from his/her campus, I suspect that there may be more than a little rationalization -- I can't have it so it must be bad for you. I doubt that most scientists would say they've lost their ability to think independently because they are in regular contact with each other.

Most of the comments so far, except for one silly one (and I know who you are) have been quite thought provoking. It's clear that some people can find their own communities, and those are the students who don't suffer. There's something about the critical nature of the interactions with certain professors, or the negative amosphere in some departments, that causes some grad students not to be able to go after that kind of community on their own. For some, it's their introverted nature. But I don't think that academia should only reward extroverts.


  1. Anonymous5:20 PM

    You totally hit the mark with the article, esp. that self-loathing, disconnectedness, languishing aspect. I thought I was the only one who had ever felt that way.

  2. Believe me, you're not the only one to feel that way, by a long shot. From my conversations with readers of my blog, newsletter, and attendees at talks, I'm beginning to think that it's more the norm for graduate students to feel this way. Of course, very few talk about these feelings with each other, because they think they're the only ones. That's really part of the problem. See my article Do You Deserve a Ph.D.? for some ideas about why that is and some steps to deal with it.

    But I think the best help is knowing you're not alone.

  3. Anonymous7:55 PM


    I liked your piece. I'd add that humanities at this point still only really rewards individual publication--it extensively theorizes and valorizes collaboration, up until the point of the submission of an essay for publication. Science students also are paid by their advisors, an important architecture we lack in the humanities, maybe for the best, maybe not.

    I've called my research group a humanities lab for some time, in an attempt to address these issues. It's been helpful that part of my work involves digitization of literary texts. This has provided a focus and occasion for gathering students with regularity and keeping conversations steadily, but rigorously evolving.


    (The "Cohen Lab" moniker was something the students came up with, so I figured I'd better not resist.)

    --Matt Cohen

  4. Anonymous5:30 PM

    Gina, you may want to have a look at the Stanford Humanities Lab, in existence since 2000. Some truly cutting edge stuff being developed within the framework of large-scale, team-based projects with project-based learning as an integral feature of Humanities education.

  5. Thank you for calling my attention to the Cohen Lab, and to the Stanford Humanities Lab. (For some reason I never got a notification of your comment, Matt, so I only just discovered it.) I'm impressed and encouraged that some in the humanities are moving in that direction. I hope that those of you in the position to do so can start to value the contributions of co-authored articles in the humanities as hightly as single author works, when considering questions of tenure and promotion.


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