Harvard To Launch Two Programs Aimed at Broadening Humanities Research, Engagement in Fall 2021


Harvard’s Arts and Humanities Division and the Mahindra Humanities Center will launch two new programs in fall 2021 to help promote undergraduate humanities research and collaboration across fields.

The Undergraduate Scholars Initiative, or USI, is a year-long program for sophomores in the College consisting of two seminars during the fall and spring semesters.

Dean of Arts and Humanities Robin P. Kelsey said in an interview that these seminars will bring together scholars from a variety of disciplines to demonstrate a “holistic” approach to humanistic research.

“We have some outstanding introductions to the humanities that are focused on freshmen,” he said. “And we often get the question, ‘What’s next?’ And we wanted to give an answer to that question.”


“We created a program for sophomores that we think will give them a very holistic introduction to the humanities, and an insight into how humanists conduct research, and the role the humanities play in the development of certain human capacities,” he added.

The Intergenerational Humanities Project, or I-HUM, is closely intertwined with the USI and will connect faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates in areas of cutting edge research in the humanities on a three-year rotating basis. The first I-HUM project — titled “Place and Planet” — will bring together scholars to study environmental humanities for the next three years.

Sophomores in USI will participate in I-HUM through collaborative spring capstone research projects.

Both programs, according to Music professor Suzannah Clark, who directs the Mahindra Humanities Center, will encompass broad-ranging aspects of the arts and humanities.

“The [USI] program, in particular, will focus on fostering things like aspects of social justice or ethics and the public humanities,” Clark said. “And it’s also to think about ways in which we’re always being asked to weigh the evidence that we’re provided, no matter what subject we’re in.”

The programs will launch later this year in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the Mahindra Center’s renaming. After students spent a year apart due to the coronavirus pandemic, the programs will bring affiliates across the University together, Clark said.

“In the fall, we’re going to sort of all gloriously come together,” Clark explained. “The idea of this program is that it’s about bringing a cohort of students together who will follow the program for the whole year.”

“One of the students that we were talking to about this said it’s a mosaic of minds brought together, and I love that image,” she added.The seminars will teach curricula that all departments in the humanitiites helped craft in addition to

Faculty in all departments in the humanities as well as student-input contributed to the crafting of the curricula that will be taught in the seminars, according to Kelsey. He and Clark co-taught Humanities 90: “Making It” this past fall as a pilot version of USI’s first seminar.

“While teaching that class, I kept thinking how much I would have loved such a class when I was an undergraduate,” he said. “I think that’s a nice confirmation that we’re doing something worthwhile.”

The fall 2021 seminar will be titled “Making It” and taught by Kelsey and History of Art and Architecture professor Jennifer L. Roberts. The spring will consist of a lab-based seminar based on the I-HUM theme of “Place and Planet.” It will be co-taught by English assistant professor Sarah Dimick and History professor Joyce E. Chaplin.

The debut of the new initiatives comes at a time when Harvard’s Arts and Humanities programs have seen a decrease in concentrators in recent years, in line with national trends.

Both Kelsey and Clark said they look forward to seeing faculty and students come together, and that they hope the pilot becomes a long-term component of Harvard humanities.

“By making it a pilot, it emphasizes that it’s new — it’s to be thought about by both the students and the faculty and everyone involved,” Clark said. “And it’s a particular point of creativity in what we hope is, of course, a long-term enterprise.”

Kelsey said he hopes the program will encourage a wide variety of undergraduates to engage with the humanities.

“This is a program for students, whatever their concentration,” Kelsey said. “We would love to have a mix of students from across the College – that’s going to lead to the most stimulating environment.”

“And one of the key premises of the program is that the humanities are for everyone,” he added.

—Staff writer Felicia He can be reached at