Studiolab Grants: Building New Communities for Living and Learning

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Next competition: fall 2020

Note for fall 2019-winter 2020 pre-proposal applicants: Invitations to submit full proposals will be issued on November 15, 2019. Full proposals will be due on Friday, February 7, 2020, 12 pm central time.

Our most ambitious plan is to pilot three vertically organized studiolab communities for humanities research and collaboration. The humanities studiolab we envision draws inspiration from both the studio and laboratory as pedagogical spaces. We intend to pilot these communities, one each year for the final three years of the grant, in what was formerly a high school in University City, very near to our Danforth Campus. Lewis Center, as it is now named, was purchased by Washington University some time ago and was remodeled in past years to serve as graduate housing and more recently as spillover studio space for graduate students in the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts. Plans are currently underway to fully renovate the entire complex to provide housing for graduate students in the humanities and the arts, as well as housing for visiting humanities faculty and artists/scholars-in-residence, studio space, and a multipurpose exhibition/performance venue. The center consists of approximately 90,000 usable square feet, 20,000 square feet of which has been allotted for nonresidential use. The move-in date is scheduled for fall 2021.

The renovation of Lewis Center gives us an extraordinary opportunity to think about “space” and “community” as constitutive parts of the initiatives we hope will transform graduate training in the humanities at Washington University. Each community or studiolab will be proposed and organized by at least two Washington University faculty and will include the following participants, all of whom will work and (if personal situations allow) live together in the newly renovated Lewis Center:

  • A humanities scholar-in-residence (duration to be determined and budgeted by the organizers).
  • A two-year pre-doc/post-doc fellow, recruited from within Washington University, who will be appointed during his or her final year of graduate school to assist faculty in developing and recruiting for the studiolab during the year prior to its establishment and then will serve in a post-doctoral capacity, as the studiolab coordinator or project manager.
  • An interdisciplinary cohort of graduate students, who will receive credit for participation, as if they are enrolled in a two-semester seminar sequence. We intend to introduce the studiolabs to prospective students during Washington University’s recruitment weekend, as well as during first-year orientation.

The members of this community will focus on a theme or problem for a sustained period of one year. As they do so, they will incorporate and develop the capacities, beyond specific disciplinary skills, that we consider essential to success within and beyond academia: competency with digital and other media; collaboration; project management; communication with many audiences, both within and beyond the university; and oral presentation. The organizing faculty will be responsible for developing the two-semester studiolab syllabus, establishing clear learning goals, and outlining specific outcomes. The pre/post doctoral fellow will assist with the management of the project during the development/recruitment year and during the year the studiolab is up and running. The concluding project of each studiolab will be a public presentation of findings in whatever forms are appropriate, including performances, exhibitions, documentary films, and publications in popular and academic venues. We believe that these small, close-knit academic communities will move us out of our individual research carrels and our disciplinary silos. More importantly, they will position us to undertake innovative, cutting-edge work in the humanities and to train post-docs and PhD students who are exceptionally well-prepared for rewarding and important careers within and beyond the academy.

Because of the substantial lead time required to establish each studiolab (the search for and appointment of the pre-doc/post-doctoral fellow, scholar-in-residence, etc.), we intend to circulate our first call for proposals in fall 2018, with a due date of December 1 and an announcement of the award in early winter 2019. The selection will be made by a subcommittee consisting of four members of the Advisory Committee, the Dean of the Graduate School, and two external members. Our intent is to recruit external members from humanities labs and “collaboratories” at other institutions. The faculty organizers will thus be able to conduct the pre-doc search in spring 2019 and will have academic year 2019–20 to assemble their team, including recruiting new graduate students during the student welcome in spring 2020. The first studiolab will open in Lewis Center in fall 2020. (The second competition will be held in fall 2019, with the studiolab opening in fall 2021. The final competition will be held in fall 2020, with the studiolab opening in fall 2022.)

Because the studiolab component is the most experimental of our four initiatives, we have considered a variety of ways and means to lessen the risk, especially given the costs involved, and are cognizant of the importance of a rigorous vetting of proposals and a close monitoring of each studio lab at every stage in its development. It is for that reason that we are proposing only three studiolabs, are funding a year of development preceding the actual establishment of the lab, and have sequenced the three over a three-year period, so that lessons learned in one year might constructively impact the next. In addition, the PI and the Advisory Committee will require progress reports at the close of every semester from the faculty in charge of each lab, in order to be proactive in addressing any problems that arise and to make revisions, if necessary, to the design of future studiolabs.  

In developing our studiolab template, we have considered a range of models elsewhere (University of Michigan’s Humanities Collaboratory, American University’s Humanities Lab, the University of Chicago’s Chicago Design Lab, and the Nexus Digital Research Co-op, among others). We will require each studiolab to draw from the expertise generated by these established models by inviting at least one consultant from these institutions or from others for an advisory visit in the year preceding the lab and for a final evaluation visit at the close of the lab. (The PI and Advisory Committee will also meet with each consultant during her/his visit.) In that way, we hope to learn from the experiences of others and to contribute to the development nationally and internationally of innovative best practices in graduate pedagogy beyond the traditional three-hour seminar. We will also encourage faculty organizers to envision their humanities-scholar-in-residence as someone who not only has thematic or topical expertise, but experience with scholarly collaboration and innovation, as well as with public and community engagement.

While our plan for the humanities studiolab communities is an ambitious one, our university and especially members of our Advisory Committee have extensive past experience with NEH seminars, Mellon Sawyer Seminars, and Mellon-funded vertical seminars. In addition, the humanities center has funded on its own and through the Divided City an exciting range of collaborations – from research initiatives and cross-institutional courses on urban segregation, to reading groups on Early Modern Europe, to faculty/graduate seminars on the environmental humanities. (See, for example All of these sites of collaborative interdisciplinary learning constitute fertile ground out of which studiolabs will, we believe, organically emerge. And once those learning communities are established, we are confident that open dialogue, scheduled reporting, careful monitoring, and engagement with both local and external experts will position us effectively for correcting any missteps, implementing necessary revisions, and building upon our successes, as we advance a new model for doctoral training.