Center for the Arts and Humanities Awards Fellowships

Humanities9 MIN READ

Each year, the center supports faculty members to develop courses and public events they’re passionate about

(Photo by Ashley L. Conti)
By Kayla Voigt '14
July 10, 2024

Five faculty members received fellowships from the Colby Center for the Arts and Humanities: Aaron Hanlon, associate professor of English; Taka Suzuki, assistant professor of art; Amanda Lilleston, assistant professor of art; and AB Brown and Gwyneth Shanks, assistant professors of performance, theater, and dance. 

Fellows spend their year developing or reworking humanities courses related to either digital scholarship or environmental inquiry and will offer a public program or event. This year’s fellows will engage students across a variety of disciplines.

Young Japanese male posing for a portrait
Assistant Professor of Art Taka Suzuki (Photo by Brian Fitzgerald)

Taka Suzuki

Art students who grew up with a love of animated shows and films get a chance to create digital media with Taka Suzuki’s four-part series of courses on the subject. “I’ve set it up so the courses are modular, which makes it accessible to all students. Each of the classes teaches a very specific skill set and program, from graphic design to animation,” he said.

Together, all four courses make up the digital media concentration within the Art Department. Digital media courses give students the skills they need to create their own content, including creating an online magazine, designing corporate logos, or cutting and editing their own films. 

His fellowship focuses specifically on the course Digital Media IV: Experimental Film and Video Art. “Experimental film is a type of cinema that’s really niche, like a combination of creative writing and poetry mixed with filmmaking,” said Suzuki. “We’re going to dive into the video editing software Adobe Premiere. But the way we’re doing it is to create non-narrative constructions, so students have to think about making it personal without following a traditional point of view.”

Suzuki’s own experimental filmmaking is informed by analog styles and his Japanese heritage. He recently filmed a modern retelling of the classic Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which he titled electric moonlight & the language with the leaves.

“As a new faculty member, having finished my first year, the most exciting thing about this fellowship is building stronger connections with other faculty members in the digital space,” said Suzuki. “I can’t wait to learn more about everyone’s research.”

Aaron Hanlon

Generative artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT and Bard get a lot of hype these days about replacing writers. For Aaron Hanlon, the value in AI is not in its generative capabilities, but in how it can sift through thousands of works of literature to find answers to questions about human nature. 

“This is going to be an important part of the future of how we study literature,” said Hanlon. “Exploring ways to incorporate digital scholarship in the Center for the Arts and Humanities and also in humanistic research at Colby more broadly is very exciting.”

Young white male posing for a portrait
Associate Professor of English Aaron Hanlon

He teaches students how to do just that in his popular course Introduction to the Computational Study of Literature, which he will rework as part of his digital scholarship fellowship. He originally designed the course with English majors in mind but found that computer science students were excited to sign up. 

“I want to meet students where they are, regardless of their background in English or in programming,” he said. “I’m really excited to teach students who are open and curious about new ways to approach a familiar subject, and then also students who feel like English isn’t their thing. I hope that they find through my course that there are different ways to analyze literature that are just as fun and rewarding.”

AB Brown and Gwyneth Shanks 

It’s one thing to read about historical movements that shaped the world as we know it, and another to experience it. AB Brown and Gwyneth Shanks want to bring students and audiences into a colonial world, one plant at a time, through their multi-year performance project a haunted botany

“This multi-year performance piece looks broadly at the colonial history of plants, tracing those histories and the ways it reveals narratives that do not often circulate about these plants and the surprising ways they continue to shape our present moment,” said Brown.

For their environmental inquiry fellowship, each will teach a different aspect of creating their year-end multidisciplinary performance. In the fall, Shanks will teach Collaborative Company: Decolonizing Botany, while Brown will teach Acts of Activism: Staging Environmental Justice in the spring. 

The pair conceptualized the performances as a long-term project exploring the history of a different plant over 17 years. So far, they’ve completed their first performance tracing the history of the logwood tree. For this year, they’ll focus on the Eastern white pine, which is Maine’s state tree and the lumber of choice for colonial tall ships.

“The project is based upon this historical practice of colonial botanists, where they would lay their plant specimens on sails to dry in order to preserve them,” said Brown. “Gwynn and I were really struck by the similarities to the cyanotype process, which is when the material of a surface is treated with cyanotype dye that reacts to the sun, transforming the shadows of objects placed on it into vibrant blues and whites. We built our performance around that idea.”

The interactive outdoor performance moves across various sites that offer historical and geographical context. From there, performers create a large-scale cyanotype print using a 500-square-foot sail and historically relevant objects. “We think of the first act of arranging the objects as telling the history, and the second act as interrogating that history by rearranging the objects,” they said. “Then we produce these huge prints, which we hope continue the story and highlight the different ways these plants have shaped our history and culture in both positive and negative ways.”

Young white female poses for a portrait
Assistant Professor of Art Amanda Lilleston (Photo by Brian Fitzgerald)

Amanda Lilleston 

As a printmaker, Amanda Lilleston uses her work to help her make sense of place and the environment. She’ll be teaching Monumental Woodworking in Maine this Jan Plan through her environmental inquiry fellowship to give students an introduction to different printmaking methods but also a meditative way to process the world around them.

“The idea is to give students the basic foundations of relief carving and woodcut printmaking, but also talking about their relationship to place and their environment,” said Lilleston. “I’ve found in my own practice that translating words and ideas into new forms like this is really powerful in how we perceive ideas.”

The class will explore various sites across Maine, such as Acadia National Park and the Bangor City Forest, using the outdoors as a springboard for conversations about ecology and placemaking. “I’m so grateful for the support from the Center for the Arts and Humanities to do really creative teaching, where I’m combining both of my academic backgrounds in biology and art,” she said.

Lilleston hopes that the interdisciplinary nature of the course will encourage students to try something new during Jan Plan. Said Lilleston, “I’m excited that I can use this course as a launching point to draw a bunch of students that aren’t necessarily art majors, but can still learn these skills and be a part of this ecological conversation.”

Colorful collage of plants and flowers
Amanda Lilleston, untitled, woodcut and lithograph collage, 60″ x 85″, 2023