The Northeastern Humanities Center’s Collaborative Research Clusters give faculty the opportunity for a range of interdisciplinary research collaborations with awards up to $2,000. These clusters bring together scholars and practitioners from different disciplines, both within and outside the university community, around a common issue of humanistic significance. The purpose is to facilitate productive discussions and collaborations among the participants, with a view toward the development of joint projects, conferences, publications, and grant applications.
The Humanities Center funds a wide range of themes and topics. Past groups have organized around such topics as critical social theory; sexual citizenship; urban environmental governance; food; and race and visual culture studies. The current active Collaborative Research Clusters are listed below:
“‘The Dragon Prayer Book”
Associate Professor of English
This research cluster brings together scholars from across the University for a Snell Library-wide exhibit on display in Fall 2019 that will center on an alternate reality game (ARG) showcasing and encouraging interaction with our research on the Dragon Prayer Book, Northeastern’s only medieval manuscript. Our primary goal is to adapt our existing research– conducted over the past three years– on the text, music, provenance, and physicality of the prayer book, into a highly interactive Snell Library exhibit. This process will require ongoing, dialectical interdisciplinary exchange: everyone who participated in the various directions of the project must be in conversation with the narrative designer—CAMD undergraduate Kieran Sheldon—in order to generate the specifics of the game and ensure that the game faithfully represents the Dragon Prayer Book team’s research and duplicates bibliographic methodologies. Kieran has worked in the past on a historical alternate reality game with Dr. Celia Pearce, Associate Professor of Game Design at Northeastern, who will also serve as a creative advisor on this project. As part of her participation, Dr. Pearce will make available to the project a new augmented reality app, the “Hidden Histories App,” created in CAMD’s game design program specifically for constructing game experiences around historical themes using archival documents. This app will allow the game to seamlessly interface with the manuscript and other historical materials to augment them with digital content. Just as the narrative design process will necessitate interdisciplinary exchange, the development of the online installation will require COE undergraduate James Packard to collaborate with all members of the cluster in order to understand how to best utilize existing digital archive resources, what content to feature, and how to make it engaging both visually and narratively.
“Life, Labor, and Debit in the New Economy”
Associate Professor of Anthropology
This cluster will focus on the rapidly changing nature of everyday life, labor conditions, and social relations under the auspices of “new economies.” The term “new economy” has come to indicate a series of futuristic revolutions linked to neoliberal reform, access to venture capital, and development through technology. The growing ubiquity of start-up culture, self-entrepreneurship, and technological innovations are transforming social, urban, and financial landscapes across the world, impacting individuals and communities in uneven ways. From the individuals who are mired in debt as a result of new lifestyle patterns and expanded credit regimes to the powerful corporations that are consolidating their monopolies on basic goods and services, there are numerous examples of how technological innovations and legal-financial instruments restructure daily life. While the financial, technological, and real estate sectors connected to the new economy report astounding growth in value, individuals and communities are often caught in more ambivalent and precarious situations concerning their ability to work, find shelter, and aspire to social mobility. This cluster draws together the research expertise of faculty at Northeastern who are conducting research on these economic transformations, as seen in high-tech automated multinational ports in West Africa, post-industrial workplace relations in US cities, the freelancing precariat and its debt relations in Indonesia, and the contested emergence of an exploitable digital working class in Boston.
“Integrated Interdisciplinary Teaching Initiative: Beyond Humanics”
The National Academy’s report on integrated interdisciplinary teaching identified substantial benefits of integration of humanities and arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching. The report called for not only integrated interdisciplinary teaching but also institutional frameworks to support it and assessment methods to evaluate the benefits. With this report in mind, our proposed research cluster will investigate the foundations for developing, assessing, and ensuring sustainability of integrated interdisciplinary teaching. The interdisciplinary research cluster seeks to explore the efficacy of interdisciplinary teaching at Northeastern. We are interested in creating novel interdisciplinary courses that integrate humanities and the arts with STEAM within core required courses, individual electives, and dual majors.
“Meaningful Measurement: Tools for Assessing Teaching”
The purpose of this collaborative research cluster is to bring together researchers at Northeastern from across disciplines to investigate tools for measuring instructor effectiveness. Currently, student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are the primary tools for measuring instructor effectiveness. There is a large and growing literature documenting two major problems with SETs: (1) student evaluations of teaching demonstrate bias with respect to gender, race, as well as other factors unrelated to teaching (i.e. perceived age of the instructor, perceived attractiveness of the instructor, perceived difficulty of the course, whether the course is required/elective, time of day the course is scheduled, etc.) and (2) SET ratings don’t correlate strongly with student performance or student learning. These findings have motivated a national conversation about measurement of instructor effectiveness and the meaningfulness of statistical data collected from student evaluations. In response, there is a movement throughout higher education toward alternative measurement tools. This topic is both important and timely for Northeastern University, especially given this institution’s reputation for both research and teaching excellence. This group aims to (1) investigate the alleged problems with SETs and then (2) conduct a comparative evaluation of alternative measurement tools, considering their ability to supplement or replace SETs in departmental evaluations of teaching effectiveness.
“Re/Producing the Urban”
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion
The focus of this interdisciplinary research cluster are the processes driving and shaping the production, reproduction, transformation, and deconstruction of urban spaces. Approaching this theme – and often just properly formulating the questions around it – requires collaboration across disciplines. For, there is no distinctive methodology for researching diverse phenomena at the urban spatial grain. A crucial task, then, is to find strategies for fruitful cross-disciplinary communication. Such strategies should both (i) facilitate knowledge transfer and (ii) help participants to think across methodologies. For example, methods in economics, sociology, and urban studies allow us to construct detailed accounts of how the foreclosure crisis transformed urban spaces. Tools from political theory and ethics can help us develop and deepen our understanding of the normative significance of these transformations. Architects and engineers can help us understand how mass urban aesthetics might have been affected by the foreclosure crisis. Philosophers and artists might have different and complementary insights into how the dominance of an urban aesthetic might affect (or not affect) the political imaginary. In short, bringing multiple disciplinary systems into conversation can reveal many further details of the complicated picture of the foreclosure crisis, and may even stimulate creative and critical thinking about novel responses to crises like the 2007/8 recession.
“Global Surveillance and Urban/Local Territories: a South-North Dialogue”
In our dangerous and uncertain times, we are experiencing the intensification of the spatial turn that, according to Fredric Jameson and others, characterized late capitalism. Issues of surveillance and security, studied from/in specific sites, are cornerstones to understand (and imagine ways to undermine) the complex logic that permeates our culture. This research cluster will study the current practices of surveillance and their manifestations and impact at specific spaces (urban, suburban, and regional), with focus on the notions of security, capitalism, and eco-governmentality. It will discuss the features of our society of control (and/or its beyond) and the characteristics of controlled or subdued territories. Finally, the cluster aims to analyze cultural modes of resistance and transgressions that have emerged alongside. Our interdisciplinary research will bring together academics, scholars, and artists from the US and Latin America to develop three main points:
–The ways in which Surveillance works today and the conceptual and cultural differences between the North and the South.
–How Surveillance is represented in contemporary visual arts, film, and literature, emphasizing the technologies used in diverse spaces, i.e., the material culture associated to surveillance.
–The subjectivities that take part in the processes of surveillance.