14.0009 Stanford humanities lab for collaborative efforts

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Wed May 10 2000 - 03:55:40 CUT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 9.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Wed, 10 May 2000 04:49:31 +0100
             From: SJ Stauffer <stauffes@gusun.georgetown.edu>

    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    Date: Tue, 9 May 2000 08:10:53 -0700
    From: reis@stanford.edu
    To: tomorrows-professor@lists.Stanford.EDU

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    The posting below describes a new effort at Stanford to bring about a
    greater collaboration among scholars in the humanities. Borrowing
    from some of the practices more typically found in engineering and
    the sciences, the Stanford Humanities Laboratory seeks to develop
    outputs that will have an appeal to a non-specialist audience.

    The article is from the April 9, 2000 issue of The Stanford Report
    and reprinted with permission.


    Rick Reis
    UP NEXT: Applied Ethics and the "Aporetic Transversity"

                            Tomorrow's Research
                -------------------- 927 words -----------------------


    It will be a lab like many others on campus, with a number of
    long-term projects run by a principal investigator who oversees a
    team of faculty and postdoctoral researchers.

    But the new Stanford Humanities Laboratory (SHL) that is scheduled
    for launch in September will boldly go where professors of
    literature, history and the arts have only tiptoed until now.

    "In current Silicon Valley parlance, one might say that SHL aims to
    serve as a sort of intellectual 'venture capitalist,' and the
    collaborative research projects that it 'invests' in could be
    envisaged as intellectual 'start-ups,'" says Jeffrey Schnapp, the
    Rosina Pierotti Professor in Italian Literature and chair of the
    Department of French and Italian.

    Schnapp, who will serve as director of the new SHL, sent a letter to
    more than 300 faculty in the humanities and area curators at the
    Stanford Libraries and the Cantor Arts Center April 17, calling for
    proposals for pilot projects for the academic years 2000-2001 and
    2001-2002. The deadline for submission is June 15, and notifications
    of acceptance will be made on July 15.

    Projects that receive funding will have one overriding goal: They
    will be collaborative in nature, drawing together teams of senior
    faculty, advanced undergraduates and postdocs, as well as museum
    curators and individuals from area cultural centers and industries.

    And the end results just might look different -- a performance,
    perhaps, or an exhibition, website, course curriculum or book that is
    aimed at a non-specialist audience.

    "Over the past few decades increasingly smaller niches of
    specialization have been carved out within the humanities," Schnapp
    says. "That's had a positive side, but it's also had the unfortunate
    consequence of sealing off areas of specialization from one another
    and reducing the scope of the conversations that take place.

    "So one of the more exciting and more difficult features of the lab
    is to create incentives for groups of scholars to work together and
    to think creatively about ways to produce and present new forms of

    Schnapp approached President Gerhard Casper and then-Provost
    Condoleezza Rice with the idea for the lab last spring, at a time
    when the Presidential Lectures and Symposia in the Humanities and
    Arts were nearing the end of their initial programming.

    "Questions were being discussed about what came next and about which
    parts of the experiment had been most successful," Schnapp says.

    He drafted a proposal for the lab and the president's office agreed
    to provide funding.

    "This literally is an initiative that is building upon the first
    presidential initiative," Schnapp says. "The symposium part of the
    budget will be moved over to support the lab in the first phase of

    Three SHL brainstorming sessions were held in October, November and
    December 1999, where faculty from various humanities departments,
    centers and programs met to imagine research projects that might
    replace the traditional individualized model.

    A number of faculty members at those meetings, like Schnapp, could
    draw on their own experience.

    Trained as a medievalist, the SHL director is a self-described
    "eccentric literary historian" and specialist in 20th-century
    culture. In recent years, he says, his work more often has put him in
    touch with architects and designers than with literary scholars.

    "Like a monk in a medieval cell, I used to sit and gather material in
    isolation over a period of years," Schnapp says. "Eventually maybe an
    essay or two, or a book would come out of that process.

    "But these days I tend to wander pretty widely in terms of
    disciplinary range, and in Europe I've had the experience of working
    in collaboration with museums on exhibitions and public
    presentations. That has required working with people in different
    areas of competence and expertise, and that has told me what an
    extremely exciting and enlivening process research can be."

    Schnapp can envisage, for example, a collaborative research project
    on the material history of literature that would look at how texts
    are organized in various cultures and how systems of notation and
    alphabets function. The project, which might also explore the
    evolution of objects such as pens and writing surfaces, could
    conclude with a global reference manual.

    "I can imagine that project might interest a whole range of
    businesses that are actively engaged in information technology here
    in Silicon Valley," Schnapp says. "And as director of SHL, I would go
    out there and pitch the project to businesses and get them involved
    in supporting research in the humanities."

    In the start-up phase of the lab, seed monies will be provided for
    between three and eight pilot projects for the academic years
    2000-2001 and 2001-2002, with budgets ranging from $20,000 to
    $50,000. In the second phase of the lab, scheduled to begin in Spring
    Quarter 2002, between four and eight large-scale projects will be
    funded per year, primarily supported by foundation grants.

    A distinctive feature of the research teams, as Schnapp envisions
    them, is the prominent role humanities postdocs will play. In fact,
    research projects will be advertised -- "we'll post the research and
    say we're looking for postdocs who want to work as part of the team."
    In the sciences, Schnapp says, young scholars often choose a
    compelling postdoc opportunity over a beginning assistant
    professorship to develop their profiles by working in a lab with
    top-notch scientists.

    "But postdocs have not been the royal road to success in the
    humanities the way they are an absolutely essential stepping stone in
    the scientific disciplines," he adds. "So the lab is conceived of as
    helping young humanists carve out a space that's been a missing link
    in their career track."

    Questions about the application process for the Stanford Humanities
    Laboratory can be addressed via e-mail to SUHUMLAB@stanford.edu , or
    phone Kellie Smith, (650) 725-9225, or Schnapp, (650) 725-3270.
    The SHL website, www.stanford/edu/group/shl, with online application
    forms and information, should be up and running in early May. SR

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