The Public Humanities Labs Initiative is a scholarly and pedagogical project that aims to integrate Humanities skills and expertise into public facing and/or community curated projects addressing topics of cultural, social, and intellectual importance.
These projects may involve storytelling, oral history, historical analysis, public writing, digital humanities, ethical inquiry, medical humanities, archival work, and many other areas of knowledge.
In the News
Professor of History Rebecca Bennette was featured in a September 2023 Seven Day’s article, A Middlebury College Professor Uses Graphic Novels to Breathe New Life Into the Study of History. The article highlights Bennette’s efforts to make history more accessible and relevant for today’s students—and how the general public can benefit.
About the Courses
As practitioners of public humanities, students experiment with different forms of public scholarship designed to translate their intellectual output to a broader community beyond the classroom. In doing so, they learn to combine serious intellectual rigor with commitment to civic awareness and responsibility. Some Labs classes include the opportunity to develop students’ Humanities coursework into projects co-created with community interlocutors.
Students enrolled in classes with Public Humanities Laboratory see firsthand how skills they are developing in the class can be mobilized and tested in productive new ways outside the classroom. Projects may involve any and all of the following as students engage in work of tangible importance to their own intellectual development:
- Mining Library Special Collections to create an exhibit or workshop about local history.
- Collecting oral histories about immigration to Vermont.
- Working with local museums to explore unexamined archives or create new archives.
- Learning from journalists how to craft op-eds on issues of local and national importance.
From 2021 to 2024, the Public Humanities Labs Initiative at Middlebury College will operate with the help of a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. If you’re interested in teaching a Public Humanities Lab course, or simply learning more about this program, please contact contact Ian Barrow. See Past Courses.
Courses offered in the past four years. Courses offered currently are as noted.
The Black Experience in Games and Gaming
Whether they allow the player to reenact historical events or explore alternative histories, many current board games and video games use historical settings as their backdrop. In this seminar, we will examine how Black experiences are represented in these games. How do games depict and interact with African American history, colonialism, and histories of the Black diaspora? How are these histories gamified, what can games teach about these histories, and how do we as players experience these interactive narratives? After familiarizing ourselves with the historical settings and events through academic readings, we will play and analyze a variety of board games and video games that engage with Black histories. While the focus of the class is the representation of these histories in games, we will also examine the experiences of Black gamers and Black game developers in gaming communities and the gaming industry. 3 hrs. seminar/2 hrs. lab. This course is part of the Public Humanities Labs Initiative administered by the Axinn Center for the Humanities.*
The Aesthetics of Asian Art: Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?
In this course we will consider select Asian (Indian, Chinese, Japanese) and Islamic artworks in the Middlebury College Museum of Art’s permanent collection to explore the fundamental question: “Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?” Are standards in beauty universal, or are they always relative? We will ask how the act of beholding is entwined with cultural assumptions and conditioning and will address those assumptions through an intensive combination of close looking, critical analysis, and comparative consideration of a diverse range of artworks and aesthetic traditions. Comparisons will be made with select works of Western art in the museum. (not open to students who have taken HARC 0102or HARC 0268) 3 hrs. lect./disc This course is part of the Public Humanities Labs Initiative administered by the Axinn Center for the Humanities./
Art, Migration, and Museums
Can artists and museums respond to the current refugee crisis? The 21stst century has witnessed the undeniable prevalence of the refugee, the migrant, and the politically displaced — categories produced by global capitalism’s uneven distribution of resources. Against this reality, artists and curators engage with representations of the disposed. In this course we will consider how the art world integrates the figure of the refugee into the traditionally reified space of the museum and examine the possibility of art to transcend barriers and generate empathy and solidarity. Possible topics include art programming and refugee integration; museum responses to the migrant crisis; migration and repatriation; boycott and divestment efforts. This course is part of the Public Humanities Labs Initiative administered by the Axinn Center for the Humanities./
Universities and Slavery in America
In this seminar we will explore and compare the different histories of enslavement at schools across the country from colonial times to the present. Some of the questions we will answer include: what was the importance of slavery in the development of higher education? How did people experience enslavement in schools? How did universities perpetuate slavery culture? The class will also consider the emerging debates over reparations and restorative justice and the role of students in these developments across the country. Using our knowledge of other institutions, students will research Middlebury’s place in this history. 3hrs sem. This course is part of the Public Humanities Labs Initiative administered by the Axinn Center for the Humanities./