The Humanities Village People
Rachel Gibian ’15 will spend a considerable part of her summer in the stacks of the Schlesinger and Houghton libraries, digging up primary documents about women who were active abolitionists during the American Civil War. Her archival work will help history and literature lecturer Timothy McCarthy develop a play that will have a staged reading during the American Repertory Theater’s 2014-2015 season as a contribution to the National Civil War Project, a collaboration among several universities and performing arts institutions across the country to commemorate the 150th anniversary of that conflict. “Four Harriets,” as McCarthy has titled his forthcoming production, will be one of several Civil War-inspired theatrical works to be hosted at the American Repertory Theater during the next season. Gibian, an English and religion concentrator, said she appreciates the interdisciplinary nature of the project, which integrates archival work with art-making.
Gibian is one of 11 Harvard undergraduates who came back to campus in early June to participate in the Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program (SHARP), a 10-week internship experience during which students assist faculty members, museum administrators, and librarians in humanistic research projects. When it was launched last summer, SHARP sponsored four projects that involved a total of nine students. This year, the number of projects has more than doubled. According to Gregory Llacer, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, increased faculty interest drove SHARP’s expansion. This summer’s research opportunities range from studying African-American folktales with Maria Tatar, Loeb professor of Germanic languages and literatures and of folklore and mythology, to developing digital maps and other cartographic material under the supervision of curators and museum technologists for the soon-to-be-reopened Harvard Art Museums.
“SHARP contributes to the growth of the undergraduate fellows by introducing them and deepening their exposure to academic and creative work in the arts and the humanities, and by giving them room to explore their own intellectual and creative pursuits,” wrote McCarthy, who is also an adjunct lecturer of public policy at the Kennedy School, in an e-mail to Harvard Magazine. According to Watts professor of music and professor of African and African American studies Kay Shelemay, who is also supervising a SHARP project this summer, the program allows students to explore what being a scholar in the arts and humanities entails. Samantha Heinle ’16, Shelemay’s summer research assistant, noted that programs like SHARP are particularly suited for students who are interested in pursuing an academic career. The music and literature concentrator will be investigating how Ethiopian musicians in the United States portray themselves in social media; her research will contribute to Shelemay’s book about the artistic lives of musicians who fled to America during the Ethiopian diaspora. “It is sort of my first foray into the realm of researching music in some capacity,” noted Heinle, who plans to pursue a graduate degree in ethnomusicology.
The research program was designed during the same period, approximately, in which a group of arts and humanities faculty members composed “The Teaching of the Arts and Humanities at Harvard College: Mapping the Future,” a lengthy report that explores divisional trends and calls for more attention to freshmen considering humanistic concentrations and the creation of new arts and humanities spaces, among other proposals. Divisional dean Diana Sorensen noted that SHARP is one of several initiatives aimed at encouraging collaboration and interaction between faculty and students. “What we want to do,” she explained, “is catch [the students’] attention, show them the merit of our collections, of our libraries, the interest of faculty research.” According to professor of Romance languages and literatures Jeffrey Schnapp, the summer research program represents a new way of engaging student interest in the humanities. Experiences like SHARP, he suggested, “get us away from [a] top-down model of education into a model where we learn through making and doing.” This summer, Schnapp is hosting a SHARP fellow at the metaLab, a research center that focuses on innovation in humanistic scholarship. (Read about Schnapp’s work here.)
SHARP joined a roster of three other concurrent undergraduate summer research programs, established earlier: the Program for Research in the Sciences and Engineering (PRISE), the Behavioral Laboratory in the Social Sciences, and the Program for Research in Markets and Organizations. (Read Harvard Magazine’s coverage of PRISE here.) The four programs make up the Summer Undergraduate Research Village, an intellectual and residential community that this summer hosts a total of 150 undergraduate researchers. Llacer, who is also the director of PRISE, explained that in addition to living together in Mather House and having their meals in the Dudley dining hall, the students meet to engage with guest speakers, to attend preprofessional training sessions, and to participate in extracurricular activities like outings to Boston. “We’re trying to break down all those disciplinary barriers,” noted assistant director of fellowships Jeffrey Berg, yet maintain the unique identity of each program. “I’m glad SHARP doesn’t exist on its own in the wilderness but it’s part of a larger whole,” added Gibian, who is sharing a suite with a handful of PRISE fellows. “It’s sort of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually have a research community around you.”
Administrative dean for arts and humanities Mathilda van Es explained that financial constraints pose a limit to the expansion of SHARP, which is jointly funded by the College and the arts and humanities division. She noted, however, that the dean’s office has been working with the development office to seek additional funding. “We would absolutely want to expand [the program],” van Es said. “We want to give this opportunity to any student we can.”