Report on Humanities Research Center Student Orientation & Information Session

By Anisha Joshi

Class of 2022

On September 1st, DKU’s freshmen were introduced to the DKU Humanities Research Center. While DKU does not have a graduate program in the arts and humanities yet, the HRC gives DKU students the unique opportunity work on intensive research with professor, as well as carry out their own projects.

Professor James Miller, a co-director of the lab, kicked off the session with an introduction to Kunshan Digital Humanities, one of the center’s latest projects. It is an archival project that DKU students worked on over 2019 and 2020, recording different places in Kunshan by creating art there. Some of the projects that students produced included a short documentary about Kunshan hairy crabs, and performance art through Bacheng, one of China’s oldest water towns.

Projects such as the KDH is only one of the panoply of things that students can get involved in with the HRC. With the different HRC labs, conferences, projects and collaborations initiated by the HRC, students have a multiplicity of options to choose from, whether they seek to explore their interest in the sciences from a humanities perspective, or work on original art projects. Through the various labs, students can working collaboratively with professors to research questions of prevailing importance of our age from a diversity of perspectives, and even work on original research.

PETAL, the Planetary Ethics and Artificial Intelligence Lab, also allows students to work on projects across disciplines. One of the projects students worked on was Journey of the Universe, based on the documentary by John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker. In this storytelling about the cosmic evolution of the universe, students engaged with science to execute a project which consisted of the DKU community walking around campus to form the shape of the Big Dipper.

The Health Humanities Lab also encourages a fusion of science and the humanities, as it seeks to tackle questions surrounding global health while incorporating a humanities perspective. In November, the lab will exhibit entries the DKU community made to the COVID memory archival project over the course of the pandemic.

Students working with the Freedom Lab will be able to research questions relating to ‘freedom’ and ‘unfreedom’ through the exploration of colonization, decolonization, slavery and even feminism. Co-directed by Professor Selina Lai-Henderson, who specializes in literary history and transnational American studies, and Professor Jesse Olsavsky who researched the history of slavery, abolition and its legacies, students who join have joined the lab have already had interesting opportunities to explore history through methods such as archival research.

Professor Xin Zhang also introduced the Third Space Lab which she co-directs with Professor Emmanuelle Chiocca and Professor Saghar Leslie Naghib. Students working in the lab can work with the professors to explore questions surrounding the third space the increasing cultural hybridity that occurs in the context of globalization- an experience students should be all too familiar with.

Professor Kolleen Guy, chair of the Division of Arts and Humanities, introduced the HRC as a ‘K-Pop project’- while the HRC performs up front, the division acts as the dancers in the back who make the show fuller. She welcomed students interested in the arts and humanities to drop by her office to work through their interests and discuss what places might be best for them to intern at or study.

Apart from working on various projects and providing research opportunities, the HRC also gives students a chance to build up practical experience working in the humanities through its collaborations with local organizations. Professor Miller announced a new collaboration The Shanghai Literary Review, a literary magazine based in Shanghai that publishes in English, where students will be able to work with writers and editors to get an in-depth view and experience of the publishing world. Students interested in media and arts can explore the HRC’s collaboration with the Chronus Art Center, also based in Shanghai.

‘If you want to do projects that are not in orthodox frameworks, projects you could not imagine doing in high school, you are free to work in the PETAL lab,’ said Elva Yu, a junior who has been working with the PETAL on various projects. One of her own projects includes an exploration of what happens when a ‘smart’ phone begins to interact back with the user, separately from the commands that the user inputs.

Rudy, another junior involved in the KDH and Journey of the Universe project appreciated how they brought together students interested in different disciplines. As a media and arts major, she was also emphasized how the HRC gives students the opportunity to work on tangible projects.

The HRC greatly values interdisciplinarity, innovation, creativity, diversity, and this is reflected in the space and resources it offers DKU students to engage in thought-provoking research and projects about matters of import to the world. By building up a partnership between professors and students, it has laid the ground for a vibrant community of thinkers who can produce exceedingly exciting work, a community that will only grow as new members keep joining us.

Students interested in HRC work and events can attend the Hum/Animal Undergraduate Humanities Research Conference over the weekend of 18th September, where students and faculty from DKU and beyond will present original research.