Humanities Action Lab: States of Incarceration

Fostering a Public Dialogue about Mass Incarceration

Humanities Action Lab (HAL) is a national hub at The New School where the humanities and design generate innovative curricula and public engagement with urgent social issues. The first Humanities Action Lab (HAL) project, States of Incarceration (SOI), focuses on the past, present, and future of incarceration, exploring the explosion of prisons and incarcerated people in the US — including immigration detention centers — and its global dimensions.

Combining historical and theoretical study with hands-on experience, students at The New School collaborated with the Fortune Society and students at twenty other universities around the country to develop a traveling exhibition, digital platform, oral histories, face-to-face community dialogues, and interactive media. Students are responsible for building New York City’s “chapter” of the exhibition and web platform. To create their local piece of the exhibit, students work with research provided by the Humanities Action Lab; conduct original research as needed; and put together a public presentation of the issue that follows guidelines and goals developed by all the partners and a common design template.

The exhibition opened at the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries at The New School in New York City in April 2016 and is traveling to at least 19 other cities – communities that created it – over the next three years.  This is a unique opportunity for students to question and propose innovative ways that museums and curators – and the combination of the humanities and design – can generate and exchange locally-grounded approaches to complex global questions and explore strategies for encouraging dialogue.

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