The classroom is conventionally understood as a space of contemplative retreat where conversation and intellectual labor occur in a world apart: the world of learning. What if, rather than being cut off from public view, the world of the classroom, particularly those privileged classrooms that lie at the heart of elite universities, opened up on the main square? Not at every moment or during every lecture, discussion, and debate, but at special moments of saliency that might productively intersect and interact with conversations that are taking place in contemporary society.
That was the approach adopted this past spring semester in my studio/seminar: “What could or should knowledge look like in the 21st century? A Knowledge Design Seminar.” The studio/seminar in question explored the shapes and forms that knowledge production and dissemination is assuming in a variety of disciplines, from the arts and humanities to design and architecture to the social and natural sciences. It involved students from Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School of Design, the School of Engineering, and School of Education, as well as a number of visiting fellows and artists. In the course of twelve sessions we explored experimental practices of scholarly writing, sounds studies, curatorial practice, critical mapping, documentary multimedia, civic humanities, text mining, uses of generative AI, and data visualization, among other themes. The majority of these units were shared in Italian on double-page spreads published in the Gazzetta di Mantova, the world’s oldest newspaper, founded in 1664. (This was a procedure, my colleague at the University of Parma, Corrado Confalonieri, and I had already successfully tested out back in 2021 with our course on “Material culture in the Middle Ages: Dante’s Commedia”.)
Each of the articles in Gazzetta di Mantova contained an overview of the topic (by myself) at hand and short essays by students describing their hands-on experiments with a given practice. The final publication in the series included abstracts of all the student projects from the course, whether individual or collaborative. At every step of the way, local schools and universities in the province of Mantua were invited to reflect and respond to the resulting prompts. The aim was to create a different kind of “open classroom,” one where what unfolds within the privileged confines of a contemplative retreat is placed in conversation with surrounding institutions and the surrounding world.
Below you will find the articles that were published over the course of the semester. My sincere thanks to Enrico Comaschi, without whose help this open classroom would have remained closed.