Embodied Humanities

What is Embodied Humanities? In a recent essay entitled “Why Making? The Making of a Broadside Ballad” Andrew Griffin explores the process whereby he and fellow colleagues – both faculty members and graduate students – sought to “make” a broadside ballad (from making the paper to performing the ballad) in order to find out more about eighteenth century culture. As Griffin suggests, instead of deriving knowledge from primary or secondary textual sources, participants “turned instead to our senses, and [ ] put our bodies through the labors that other long-dead bodies have previously performed." This process of re-enactment, he argues, results in a new kind of critical engagement and a new kind of knowledge. “We now know, for instance,” suggests Griffin, “how the art we engage is limited by the material affordances of the stuff and technology used in its production.” For Griffin and his fellow “makers,” this new knowledge that results when experience is “treated as an admissible form of evidence”  expands “beyond historicism to engage broadside ballads differently.” It also, he suggests, works to broaden students’ understanding of the purpose of humanities studies, showing them how the humanities connect with technology and material culture both historically and in the present day. His research suggests that projects involving embodiment can enhance students learning and engagement in the classroom as well as in their out of classroom understanding of the integrative role of the humanities in society. 

I utilize the term "embodied humanities" to describe these kinds of somatic practices. You can find out about my Embodied Humanities courses and my research below. 

Fall, 2019: Creating an Embodied Humanities Course Involving Media Labs: In 2019, I received a grant from the Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines to create a course involving what I called “embodied humanities". The course was designed with the goal of engaging students in and broadening their knowledge of a subject area which is often seen as difficult and remote to them: eighteenth-century literature. The big question I sought to test is whether providing students with learning opportunities involving hands-on experiences with three media platforms utilized in the eighteenth century (oral listening and performance; scribal culture; and letterpress printing) will enhance their engagement with and understanding of eighteenth-century literature and culture. We are interested in particular in how the process of “putting . . . bodies through the labors that other long-dead bodies have previously performed” serves to boost four aspects of their engagement: “emotional engagement, physical engagement, cognitive engagement in class, and cognitive engagement out of class” (Burch, et. al., “Student Engagement: Developing a Conceptual Framework and Survey Instrument,” Journal of Education for Business 90, no. 4 [May 19, 2015]: 224–29). You can read the final report HERE

Fall, 2020: Embodied Humanities in a Remote Environment: In Fall, 2020, I received a "New Ways of Teaching and Learning" grant to pivot some of the activities that I used to a remote environment. My hypothesis was that embodied humanities activities may serve to engage students more than ever during a time when all are suffering from an overexposure to screens for videographed lectures and remote learning. I implemented the pivoted techniques in two courses that I taught in Fall, 2020: English 420 (an upper division undergraduate course) and English 820 (a graduate course). There were some differences between the courses. 

There were two questions I wanted to investigate with this project: 1. How “embodied humanities” pedagogical methodologies can be adapted to a remote learning environment 2. How incorporating the practices of embodied humanities (in particular, singing and writing with quill pens and ink) in a remote learning environment might enhance student engagement with eighteenth-century studies as well as contribute to overall student well-being and sense of community. You can read the final report HERE

2021: Amundsen Fellowship: In 2021, I was awarded an Amundsen Fellowship to expand my researches into “Enhancing Student Engagement Through An Embodied Humanities Approach to Teaching." During the tenure of my Amundsen Fellowship, I will explore theories, methodologies and best practices connected to what I am calling “Embodied Humanities” (EH). I wish to find out how Embodied Humanities approaches can be used to boost student engagement in humanities subjects, build connections between instructors from different disciplines and different institutions, and also to work against the divide between humanities and science/technology courses.