December 3, 2005

More Reactions to "We Need Humanities Labs"

My article in Inside Higher Ed, "We Need Humanities Labs," has generated a lot of comments, I'm happy to say! I've seen the argument that I made for more interactions among those in the humanities tied in to the need for those in the humanities to collaborate more to compete for funding, and also to the idea of setting aside physical library space for grad students and advisors to meet.

John, who writes Machina Memorialis, wrote a particularly thoughtful and well-written post. He writes about his experience in such a "lab."

It's about the connections, the associations, the joining of disparate pieces of information into something new. It was the exposure to ideas, to thoughts, to associations and connections I wasn't going to encounter on my own....

And that, I think, is what Gina Hiatt is suggesting in this piece, that by coming together weekly to focus on each others work, to bounce ideas off each other, to tap into and share each others storehouses of knowledge and experience, to create a continuing intellectual dialogue that we can draw upon when we enter into our quiet, solitary time of reading, thinking, and writing. But, most importantly, we then bring back to the group what we get out of that quiet, solitary time.

In a piece in Inside Higher Ed, Donald Hall talks about his plans to use his endowed chair position to be "a facilitator of others’ work, a discussion leader, and an engaged — and intellectually engaging — colleague." He lists as one of his goals "building intellectual cohesion," something he describes as "sorely lacking in intellectual communities."

A research support group that meets once a month to exchange work-in-progress, offer feedback (even copy-editing suggestions), and engage in inter-methodological and inter-specialization dialogue is an easy and inexpensive way to nurture community and also mentor to junior faculty. In fact, this would address some of the concerns that Gina Hiatt mentions in her recent essay “We Need Humanities Labs.” It would model the behavior among faculty that she hopes to see occur between faculty and students and among students themselves. All it takes to set up such a support group, as I have now at two universities, is a few hours of work on e-mail and a bit of organizational energy. Yet such a group is only one strand in what should be a larger web. It takes little extra time and effort to supplement that group with others devoted to reading a work of general use in research or pedagogy or to exchanging ideas for professional growth or teaching. Not all colleagues will take advantage of such opportunities; some may choose to participate in only one or even none. But for those who do participate, these efforts can help nurture a sense of intellectual community in an otherwise fragmented professional life.

And finally, not that I would ever Google myself, but I did happen to find this on Google: "Necesitamos Laboriatorios en Humanidades." Granted, it's only the title translated, but it made me feel very international.


At 9:09 PM, Blogger vegreville said...

Found you through your comment on my site. I don’t work in the humanities, but in the social sciences.

More and more successful PhD programs in some of the social sciences follow your suggestion—readings and discussion groups, and brown bag seminars with faculty and PhD students. The benefits are enourmous for both the students and the faculty. The students learn to present, get early feedback for their work, learn about new areas, and also gain some intellectual confidence when they see the faculty doing the same. The faculty get help with their work, and it’s a great way to learn about new, interesting areas. You also learn about student quality and can get joint projects going.

This is all in addition to the regular seminars at most of these places, too.


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