You are viewing 15 posts in the category Humanities Lab

New Humanities Lab Takes On the World’s Largest Unknown Country, Brazil

Brazil is an increasingly important player on the world stage. Its profile at Duke is rising as well. A Humanities Lab launched this semester, Global Brazil: Culture, Nature, Politics, joins a new major in Brazilian and Portuguese Studies and the Duke Brazil Initiative.

Funded by Humanities Writ Large and hosted by the Franklin Humanities Institute, Humanities Labs bring diverse disciplines together with a common theme. Global Brazil is the fifth lab to be established. Its co-directors are Paul Baker, Earth and Ocean Sciences; John French, History and African and African American Studies; and Esther Gabara, Romance Studies and Art, Art History & Visual Studies.

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world. Its population and culture are a dynamic hybrid of African, European, and indigenous elements. The country has stunning ecosystems, rich natural resources, and massive urban centers. It hosted the 2014 World Cup, which made it the focus of a steady stream of news stories, for better or worse.

The co-directors described their approach for a recent Duke Chronicle story. French noted that the country’s recent evolution made it an especially rewarding study.

"Brazil is unquestionably the world's largest unknown country," he stated. "However, I'm amazed at how much Brazil has changed. I would say it is an entirely different place than it was three decades ago."

According to Gabara, the project is international as well as interdisciplinary, "looking at Brazil not just as an individual country, but within the broader context of its place in the world."

"I think of Brazil comparatively. These big countries like Brazil and Argentina are typically studied by themselves, and I think we're missing a lot when we do that," Gabara noted. "We're not just interested in Brazil within its borders, but also the networks that connect Brazil."

The Lab’s featured courses in Fall 2014 include “Global Brazil” and “Capoeira: Culture and Practice.” Students will also have the opportunity to participate in faculty-led research projects focused on art and popular culture (with the goal of planning a public exhibit on Pop Art in Brazil and the Americas); biodiversity, energy, and human development in the Amazon; and political inequalities and democratic social movements.

    • Protest Photo for Global Brazil
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BorderWork(s) Hosts a Meeting of the Mapping Minds

Thanks to the joint efforts of Humanities Writ Large fellow Jordana Dym and BorderWork(s) Lab director Phil Stern, the BorderWork(s) Lab hosted visitors from New York this past fall. Five students and two faculty from Dym's home institution, Skidmore College, joined a dozen Duke students and faculty at the BorderWork(s) Lab October 25-26, 2013 to discuss the study and public presentation of history and cartography. The visit was made possible by a travel grant from Skidmore's Office of Academic Advising.

In the course of conversations and presentions on the first day, the Duke contingent heard about public history projects at Skidmore, where students mapped the "sacred spaces" of Saratoga Springs for a walking tour and various public talks. In the process, they learned about the challenges and triumphs of translating historical ideas and analysis to museum and library spaces and of preparing guided tours and videos. Prof. Stern took the floor to showcase the way digital tools, such as DIVE and Neatline, allow undergraduate students to study the impact of physical space on historical events from Tahiti to India. The day of intensive conferencing was broken up by a visit to the Defining Lines exhibit at the Nasher.

The Skidmore group, led by professors Tillman Nechtman and Eric Morser, spent a second day exploring Durham, thinking about how history happens in public. Highlights included a walking tour of downtown, a guided tour of historic Stagville, and a meeting with UNC-Greensboro professor of public history Benjamin Filene, who made a persuasive case that the guest students should consider graduate school in the Research Triangle area.

While at Duke, Dym has developed a project to create an exhibition called "Mapping a City: Saratoga Springs, 1819-1915-2015" for the Saratoga Springs History Museum. The exhibit will be assembled by students in Dym's Fall 2014 class Mapping the Americas and will open next spring. To prepare the ground, Dym has engaged two Skidmore students for a summer project involving research, design, and the preparation of a historical database.

Those plans were recently revised to include Duke junior Zach Mooring. Mooring first encountered Dym when she visited Mark Olson's Theories of Visual Studies class to speak about her research on historical cartography. His interest piqued, he initiated conversations with both Dym and Olson. The idea that emerged was that Mooring should join Dym's summer project.

It's a winning arrangement for both sides. Mooring's skills in 3D modeling, visualization, and web programming will complement the archival research expertise of Dym's Skidmore students. In return, Mooring will come back to Duke with the raw material for a Graduation with Distinction project that blends theory, history and contemporary media practice. Olson will be his adviser.

Contributed by Jordana Dym and Mark Olson

    • BorderWork(s) Lab with visiting Skidmore students
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Global Brazil Humanities Lab

A new Humanities Laboratory, GLOBAL BRAZIL: CULTURE, NATURE, POLITICS, will begin in Fall 2014.  Global Brazil aims to generate new conversations between the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences by including students in research focused on Brazilian arts, social movements, and natural environment. The Lab will be directed by an interdisciplinary team of faculty: Paul Baker, Earth and Ocean Sciences; John French, History and African and African American Studies; and Esther Gabara, Romance Studies and Art, Art History & Visual Studies.

Interested students and other campus community members are invited to an open house/information session on Wednesday, March 19, 4:30 pm at the FHI Garage (C105, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse). Refreshments will be provided.

Why a Humanities Lab on Brazil now? The largest country in Latin America and the fifth largest in the world, Brazil has emerged as a leading 21st century state by virtue of the vibrancy of its culture, the development of its economy, the richness of its natural resources and, foremost, the democratic energies of its people. The past decade has seen a vast increase in Brazil's international prominence and leadership stemming from its uniquely dynamic social movements. A country featuring massive urban centers with major universities, museums, and research institutions, as well as the world's greatest trove of biodiversity, Brazil offers both challenges and solutions relevant globally: regarding the preservation of languages, natural environments, and cultures threatened by uncontrolled "development." Indeed, the cultural, spiritual, and musical life of Brazil has been profoundly shaped by the half of its population that is of African descent, as well as its diverse indigenous peoples and cultures. Through spirituality, dance, martial arts, and visual culture, these groups have contributed to the veritable phenomenon the country represents in today's world, and offer others ways of knowing and living in the face of these challenges. As host to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazil will feature even more prominently on the global stage. The Global Brazil Lab offers students and faculty from across Duke a unique opportunity to participate in collaborative and independent research with visiting Brazilian scholars, artists, and activists, and contribute to our understanding of and engagement with this fascinating country.

The Lab's featured courses in Fall 2014 will include "Global Brazil" and "Capoeira: Culture and Practice." Students will also have the opportunity to participate in faculty-led research projects focused on art and popular culture (with the goal of planning a public exhibit on Pop Art in Brazil and the Americas); biodiversity, energy, and human development in the Amazon; and political inequalities and democratic social movements.

The Global Brazil Lab will be closely aligned with the new Brazilian and Global Portuguese Major in the Department of Romance Studies, with the Duke Brazil Initiative, and with the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

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Documenting the South Through Sound

Duke Today has featured Sounds of the South (ENG90S.04), a course affiliated with the Audiovisualities Lab.  

Mary Caton Lingold, the instructor for Sounds of the South, is also the project director for the Sonic Dictionary.  Through a multi-course collaborative experiment the team is working to build a digital database of sounds that can be accessed and searched freely as if it were a “dictionary.”

The project was inspired by the lack of reference materials available for students and teachers of sonic material, whether musical, environmental, or technological. The collaborators are experimenting with the form of a dictionary to imagine how audio recordings can be used to enhance understanding of vocabulary related to auditory culture.

As part of the requirements for Sounds of the South, students are contributing content to the Sonic Dictionary and engaging in collaborative exhibit curation and presentation.

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Next Humanities Lab Opportunity

Proposals are now being accepted for a new Humanities Lab to start in Fall 2014 at the Franklin Humanities Institute. The deadline for application is October 25, 2013.

The two current FHI Humanities Labs funded by Humanities Writ Large are BorderWork(s), and Audiovisualities. Humanities Writ Large previously supported the Haiti Lab and the GreaterThanGames Lab.
For the full CFP, visit the FHI website.
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Defining Lines: Rethinking Images of Colonial Authority

Phil Stern's students in the Maps, Art, and Empire research cluster at the BorderWork(s) Lab conducted research on a series of historical maps that will be included in an exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art called Defining Lines: Rethinking Images of Colonial Authority that will be opening at the Nasher Museum this September alongside Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space, a major exhibit of contemporary South Asian art. The seven students talk about their maps and their research experiences in this series of videos.

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One Outcome of the Haiti Lab: Tibetan Language Classes

One sign of the success of Duke's Haiti Lab is that students at Duke will soon be able to study Tibetan.  What do an island in the French Caribbean and a language spoken in central Asia have to do with each other? Starting in Fall 2013, Duke students will be able to study the Tibetan language with faculty and students at the University of Virginia, and UVA students will be able to study Haitian Creole with faculty and students at Duke.  At Duke, Creole language courses have gained a foothold due to the success of the Haiti Lab.  At UVA, the Tibetan Center was founded in 2008 to examine that language and culture.

Dean Laurie Patton of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences explained that "we're protecting languages that are very much a part of our global culture but aren't necessarily the first you would take in a Western academic curriculum" and that "in this economic climate, might not otherwise be sustained."

"Less commonly taught languages are no less important for being infrequently taught," said Meredith Jung-En Woo, UVA's Buckner W. Clay Dean of Arts & Sciences. "This is an example of the type of intellectual leadership universities can offer that is cost effective and therefore isn't driven only by the single criteria of enrollment."

Duke officials hope to expand the program to include other languages and other interested universities.

Read the entire story in DukeToday

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The Haiti Lab: We Had the Idea and We Did It

Professor Laurent Dubois, one of the co-directors of the Haiti Lab, was interviewed for Faith & Leadership, an offering of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School.  He described how the Haiti Lab came to be and the importance of having freedom to experiment, paired with resources to support that experimentation. 

One of the foci of the Haiti Lab was to consider, as he explained, "what are we training undergraduates to do, exactly? Since most undergraduates are not going to go into academia, we want to impart to them skills that could be used and applied to lots of different areas. A collaborative research context really helps in identifying the problem, figuring out what resources you need to resolve it and connecting it to other things out there."

Read the entire article here.

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    • Haiti: History Embedded in Amber- Created under the direction of Artist Edouard Duval-Carrie

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Teaching Gaming Through Economic Woe, and Economic Woe Through Gaming

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    • Part of the Specula1ion collective: Students Stephanie Boluk, Luke Caldwell, Patrick LeMieux and Professor Katherine Hayles. Photo by Megan Morr/Duke University Photography

The GreaterThanGames lab's Speculat1on game is featured on Duke Today.  Read the article here.

The GreaterThanGames Lab is an interdisciplinary initiative focused on the productive intersection of transmedia applications, virtual worlds, and digital storytelling.

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Duke Humanities Lab is Helping to Spread a Financial Crisis... virtual reality. Speculat1on, an alternate reality game developed last year in the GreaterThanGames Lab, is being taught in undergraduate courses at Vassar and the University of Chicago. From the Franklin Humanities Institute blog:

"Speculation combines game play with narratives of a near-future world, codes and ciphers with deep information about the origins of money, credit, and finance. Led by Kate Hayles, Patrick Jagoda, and Patrick Lemieux, a collective of GTG faculty/students/friends worked tirelessly last year to design and implement the game - often re-designing and re-implementing on the fly as they matched wits with the crytographically savvy game players."

"Stephanie Boluk, a key member of the Speculation team, is teaching at Vassar this academic year and has made the game a part of her 'Digital Arts/E-poetries' class."

Read more in the FHI blog and Vassar's Miscellany News.

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Humanities Lab Development Opportunity

The Haiti Lab, Duke's inaugural Humanities Lab, is in its third and final year.  Proposals are now being accepted for the next Humanities Lab; the deadline for proposals is November 2, 2012.  

A Humanities Lab should be built around a theme or broadly defined idea as articulated by two to three Lab co-directors and a core team of two to three additional faculty members from the humanities, interpretive social sciences, and other Duke schools and research units. Each Lab should also encompass an expanded, "vertically integrated" group of faculty members, graduate assistants, and undergraduate students working on shared research projects. Undergraduates will be able to align their participation in the Labs to their independent study projects or in relation to individual or group honors projects. In each year of each Lab, participating faculty members are requested to teach at least one course related to the Lab project.

Click here for the full CFP.

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Undergraduate Students Needed to Play a New Game

Adeline Koh, a Humanities Writ Large Visiting Faculty Fellow, is currently designing Trading Races with GreaterThanGames lab. Trading Races is an elaborate historical role-playing game designed to teach race consciousness in an undergraduate course. The game is set at the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus in April 2003, two months before the Supreme Court landmark decisions on affirmative action. Players take on the roles of multi-ethnic and multi-national members of an imaginary Michigan Student Assembly, and present speeches on race related issues based upon their characters’ social and political orientation in gameplay. By asking players to assume the ideological worldview of people different from themselves, the game encourages players to “trade races” intellectually and emotionally. An electronic simulation of this paper-based game is also being planned. Koh is currently looking for volunteers to help playtest the game starting October 2012. To find out more, visit the website:

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Cartwheeling into the Future of Higher Education

Cathy Davidson, Duke's John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, recently singled out the Haiti Lab as an "inspiring example of what higher education aspires to beyond the walls of the Ivory Tower." Since late April, she has written a "series of posts... on changing higher education to change the world" for Co.EXIST, an offshoot of Fast Company magazine. Her second post — "Why Flip The Classroom When We Can Make It Do Cartwheels?" — is largely about the Haiti Lab.

In a "flipped" classroom, digital technology allows students to "do the homework before class, typically reading course materials or watching videos of lectures online." Then, "[c]lass time is spent on individual or small group tutoring" instead of listening to a lecture. Flipping is fine as far as Davidson is concerned, but it "doesn't come close to preparing students for the challenges of today's world and workforce." If, as one study suggests, "65% of today's teens will end up in careers that haven't even been invented yet," it's not enough to teach circumscribed bodies of knowledge. Students need to leave college with "the mental habits, practice, and confidence to know that, in a crisis, [they] can count on [themselves] to learn something new." Thus the "cartwheeled classroom."

According to Davidson, the Haiti Lab stands out first of all as an interdisciplinary structure that leverages courses already offered by the participating professors. "Students still learn content in class but they bring their specialized learning to the Haiti Lab where they work on collaborative, real-world problems as well as on supplementary skills (ranging from Haitian Creole to data visualization and online tool development for public documentation of their work)."

"But the world-spinning really happens in the Haiti Lab's partnerships beyond Duke, such as with a Family Health Ministries' clinic in Leogane, Haiti, that links Duke students with local community health workers. Using Movi for tele-seminars and Blackboard and GoogleDocs for document sharing, the collaboration has also built close ties with Haitian universities trying to maintain their education and research in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.

"The Lab's public WordPress site for a trilingual Haiti digital library is purposely low on graphics and design to enable quicker access by Haitian partners. These international teams collaborated with faculty and students at Sherbrooke University (Quebec) and kids at Baltimore Friends School on archival work as part of the digital Marronnage archive in Saint-Domingue that brings together the scattered documents of the French transatlantic slave trade. One spectacular archival contribution brought joy to Haiti's bleakest moment when Duke doctoral student Julia Gaffield, working in the British Museum, found and identified the only known, extant copy of the 1804 Haitian Declaration of Independence.

That's not all. In 2010, when a cholera outbreak was reported in Haiti, many Haitians insisted the disease had to have been carried to the island by aid workers, because the country had never experienced cholera before. Epidemics are contained by locating their source, rarely a simple matter. It didn't seem possible that this was an original incidence of cholera. The Haiti Lab got busy: medical researchers and historians, teachers and students, Americans and Haitians worked around the clock, scouring newspapers, journals, and ship records all the way back to 1833, documenting it all in a public Cholera Time Map. They discovered several cholera outbreaks throughout the Caribbean, but none in Haiti. With help from the map, global health officials (including from the UN) were able to act swiftly to isolate the source and curtail the impact of the disease on an already devastated country. Jenson and her fellow Haiti Lab professor Victoria Szabo published the findings in the scientific journal Emerging Infectious Diseases."

All of this adds up to an "[e]nergized, connected, engaged, global, informed, dedicated, activist" kind of learning that "not only connects text books and classrooms to the real world, but... also inspires, uplifts, and offers the joy of accomplishment."

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Haiti Lab student wins Davis Projects for Peace Award

Lauren Zalla, a senior who has collaborated with the Haiti Lab on several projects, has recently won the Davis Projects for Peace Award, which provides $10,000 to a recipient to design and carry out a grassroots project for the summer of 2012. Lauren will undertake a project that addresses an immediate and life-changing need for Haitian women: the lack of access to sanitary materials.  Lauren is writing a thesis on the history and culture of breastfeeding in Haiti.  Read more on the FHI website.

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Breaking Down Walls

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The humanities lab BorderWork(s) encourages faculty and students to explore what keeps people apart.

Read the full article in Duke Today

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