The Bennett-Polonsky Humanities Labs at NYU

In 2017, the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs and for the Humanities, and the Center for the Humanities launched the Bennett-Polonsky Humanities Labs (H-Labs), a collaborative, interdisciplinary research and curricular initiative. Drawing on the lab model from the sciences and the studio model from the arts, H-Labs offer new opportunities for humanities-centered inquiry with an ethos of experimentation, creativity and cross-disciplinary knowledge production. The goal has been to create shared spaces, both real and virtual, where faculty, students and humanities practitioners from different fields may come together to tackle big questions or explore timely ideas of import.

The H-Lab model is unique in the Humanities insofar as it leverages the various kinds of exchanges – both formal (organized discussions, presentations of work-in-progress) and informal (shared readings, open bookshelves, whiteboards) – that lab spaces makes possible, in order to produce rigorous, engaged, collaborative, public-facing scholarship. This work may eventually take form as a single-authored scholarly article or monograph, the most common way that academic knowledge is disseminated, but potentially also a number of other forms, such as co-authored, cross-disciplinary articles, a website, short documentary, oral history, or countless other forms of scholarly intervention. Humanities Labs are also unique in the immediacy with which they integrate research and curriculum, bringing of-the-moment research into both graduate and undergraduate classrooms.

How do they work? 

H-Labs are year-long, intensive collaborations involving both faculty and students from different disciplines across the university. Each Lab team identifies a broad-based concept that touches upon the complex experience of being human in today’s world, and so demands investigation from multiple directions and approaches.

H-Lab teams meet on a weekly basis over two semesters. Faculty members receive a course reduction, with funds provided to the home department in support of replacement teaching, as neededIn the first semester, the team discusses and analyzes readings, poses questions, proposes and carries out conceptual experiments, gathers data, and effectively functions as a research team, with members working both collectively and individually. This activity may be set up as a graduate-level course, for which graduate lab members receive credit.

In the second semester, in addition to continuing to meet as a research team, H-Lab faculty members team-teach one or more 4-point undergraduate courses on the lab’s theme, thereby bringing research immediately into the undergraduate curriculum. Graduate student Lab members may be teaching assistants on these courses, which incorporate experiential learning, and are essentially extensions of the Lab’s work – essentially, undergraduates join the lab team for the duration of their course. 

To learn more about the Bennett-Polonsky Humanities Labs, we invite you to peruse this website, which will grow as new outcomes are added. 

NYU’s H-Labs are made possible by a generous grant from
Dr. Georgette Bennett in honor of Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE.

What is an H-lab? (short film by Scarlett Li and Ifeyinwa Arinze)