Humanities Labs: An Introduction


Read: Against the Tide

Colby Magazine explores the Center for the Arts and Humanities’ commitment to the humanities.

Humanities Labs Captured in Videos

These innovative courses promote experiential learning by incorporating observation, hands-on experimentation, and skill-building perspectives more commonly associated with the natural sciences. Courses across the humanistic disciplines can turn the Colby Museum of Art, Special Collections in Miller Library, or off-campus locations across Maine into laboratories. Humanities labs add new dimensions to the intrinsic value in studying the humanities.

Art293A: Asian Museum Workshop: Chinese Artists in Maine

A hands-on, collaborative workshop in which students become curators and create a museum exhibition at Common Street Arts, in downtown Waterville. Students learn through studio visits, artist interviews, readings, presentations, and writing assignments. They jointly select the artwork, produce a press release, write labels and a catalogue, and then install the exhibition before hosting a grand opening. To view the exhibit website they created, visit

IT397: Italian Food in Practice: A Hands-On Cultural History

Italian 397: Italian Food in Practice: A Hands-On Cultural History from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

Students trace the historical evolution of Italian food culture since classical times and examine the extraordinary significance of food for Italian national identity through historical, cross-cultural, and theoretical perspectives, drawing from history, anthropology, sociology, art, and literature. During the weekly lab they prepare classic Italian recipes. Perfetto!

AM221: Mapping Waterville

American Studies 221: Mapping Waterville from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

Through geographical and architectural fieldwork, students construct an online archive of Waterville’s built environment using architectural sketches, photographs, interviews, and archival research. They analyze and interpret the town’s material and spatial character, track and explain changes across time, and publish their interpretations online using innovative digital mapping technologies.

HI241: History of Colby College

History 241: The History of Colby College from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

Through hands-on experience with archival and primary-source materials in Special Collections, students gain confidence as scholars and participate in writing the College’s history. Supported by professional archivists and the course instructor, students develop independent research projects on Colby’s rich past, exploring everything from why Colby’s mascot is the mule to early-19th-century students’ commitment to antislavery.

PL234: Philosophy and Art

Philosophy 234: Philosophy and Art from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

Philosophy students turn the museum of art into their lab space. Looking through a philosophical prism, students perform original research on artworks in the museum and share their results with the community in a public forum, thereby developing their oral communication skills as well.

GM237: The German Fairy Tale in Popular Culture (in English)

German 237: The German Fairy Tale in Popular Culture from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

After an in-depth study of well-known German fairy tales, Colby students partner with fourth graders in a local school to reimagine these stories. By doing so they gain fresh perspectives on the tales, acquire a greater understanding of the learning process, and perform meaningful community service.

LT251: Ovid and the Censored Voice

Latin 251: Ovid and the Censored Voice from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

In addition to studying Latin language, syntax, and literature, students learn how to design a captivating website to display the fruits of their research to a wider audience as well as how to hook an audience and keep it engaged. Students gain practical skills to go along with the intellectual exercises that help them develop as thinkers. To see the Ovid website students created, click here.

EA231: The Chinese Novel: Vignettes of Life in Imperial China

East Asian Studies 231: The Chinese Novel from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

A Chinese literature course studies a great Chinese novel in conjunction with a special exhibition of Chinese art in the Colby Museum of Art. Students also learn to make a podcast to share what they learned with museum visitors.

EN413J: Shakespeare Texts and Contexts: Renaissance London and 19th-Century America

English 413J: Shakespeare Texts and Contexts: Renaissance London and 19th Century America from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

Students read Shakespearean plays together, learn about their Renaissance contexts, and explore how and why Shakespeare informs American history and identity in pervasive ways. Working with materials in Colby’s Special Collections as well as primary-source databases and secondary texts, students install and introduce to the public their own library exhibition, Shakespeare in 19th-Century America.

AR211: Student Docent Program

Art 211: Student Docent Program from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

In a course that combines elements of an education course with art history, students do practical, hands-on work. They learn about museum studies, gallery teaching techniques, the museum collection, practical techniques for art education, how to design lessons, and more.

Music 222:  Maine’s Musical Soundscapes: Ethnography of Maine

Music 222: Maine’s Musical Soundscapes: Ethnography of Maine from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

After studying ethnographic field methods and basic filmmaking, students take field trips to document and record the musical cultures of Maine’s ethnic and racial communities, including Penobscot, Lebanese, Somali, Russian, and French-Canadian (the group under study rotates on a yearly basis). Students present their final research project in the form of a documentary film.

AR497: Sex in Art

Art 497: Sex in Art from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

Looking at art and sex through the lens of censorship, this course engages in an exploration of the circuitous journey that constitutes research. Taking advantage of a museum exhibit specially designed for this course, students turn to their professor as a research mentor and guide.

AR 538: Photography and Migration

AR538: Photography and Migration from Colby College Arts/Humanities on Vimeo.

This humanities lab and civic engagement course explores how photography has been used to document, enable, or control the movement of people across geographical and cultural borders. It focuses on how photographers have put a face on immigration, making visible its associations with transition, displacement, hardship, and opportunity. Engaging with current scholarship, students work closely with photographs in Special Collections at Miller Library. They also study materials in local archives and the family photographs of Maine immigrant communities.