Arts and Humanities Ring in Fall Semester with New Interdisciplinary Courses


As Harvard begins its first all-online semester, the Arts and Humanities division is offering a new set of interdisciplinary courses designed to meet the needs of a virtual classroom.

The courses — ARTS 20: The Garden, HUMAN 20: A Colloquium in the Visual Arts, and HUMAN 90: Making It: A Sophomore Seminar in the Humanities — will be taught by faculty from a wide array of departments across FAS.

In describing the conception of HUMAN 90, Dean of the Arts and Humanities Division Robin E. Kelsey said the course seeks to bridge the gap between freshman year and upper-level courses within the division.

“This course was an effort to come up with a good answer to the question, ‘What’s next?’” Kelsey said. “What happens after the freshman year that enables a student to get a broader perspective on academic work in the humanities?”


Kelsey, who co-teaches HUMAN 90 with Director of the Mahindra Humanities Center Suzannah Clark, explained the course will teach students how to critically engage with the arts and humanities.

Kelsey added the course was also inspired by a desire to “reinvigorate the humanities in this dynamic and challenging time.”

Similarly, History of Art and Architecture Professor Yukio M. Lippit ’92, who spearheaded the development of HUMAN 20, wrote in an email that the course will teach students “how to study works of visual art with rigor, to appreciate their infinite complexity and the questions onto which they open up.”

Lippit co-teaches HUMAN 20 this semester with fellow History of Art and Architecture faculty Joseph L. Koerner, Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Sarah E. Lewis ’01, David J. Roxburgh, and Jennifer L. Roberts.

Lajer-Burcharth said the course — which she described as “structurally modeled” after HUMAN 10, an introductory-level humanities course — will be a special addition to the arts and humanities curriculum at Harvard because of its focus on “visual aspects of culture” and “visual literacy.”

Koerner acknowledged while the virtual semester will pose unique challenges, he believes that art history — which often relies on the use of a slide projector to “project objects that are in the museum into a classroom” — might benefit “from a world in which we are all sharing the same screen.”

“I’m excited to try out this format because it’s a format that can be, if handled well, a really interesting way of bringing people together by all of us talking together at the same time, around the same shared thing, which is this representation of an object on our screen,” Koerner said.

ARTS 20: The Garden will also pilot a new format this term. The course, which features faculty from the Arts, Film, and Visual Studies, Music, and Theater, Dance, and Media departments, intends to bring students of different arts disciplines together.

Speaking about the development of ARTS 20, AFVS professor Karthik Pandian said the course — a transdisciplinary collective of students and faculty — was designed to meet the needs of student-artists during this difficult time.

“[TDM professor] Jill [Johnson]’s dancers literally cannot be in the same room as one another,” Pandian said. “Folks that are trying to collaborate on thesis films can’t form a crew and make a film. So what do we need at this moment? We need more collective structures.”

Johnson, who serves as a mentor in ARTS 20 along with Pandian and Music professor Claire Chase, echoed Pandian’s sentiment, framing the course title as representative of the collaborative “model of care” the course will implement.

“We wanted to literally prepare the ground and start to seed, to set in motion, a community that we want to be central for student artists,” Johnson said. “It will be a time for students to do self paced work together with mentorship, which is central to the garden ecosystem.”

Chase echoed the garden metaphor, describing her aspirations for students to come out of the class with “incredibly fertile ground to do what what they need to do in their own artistic practices and in their activism for creating, shaping reimagining, breaking down, disrupting, rebuilding the worlds that they want to live in and work in.”

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at