Three PhD students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University recount their experiences of a collaborative hands-on approach to the humanities, at the intersection of craft and science. As participants in the “Laboratory Seminar” component of the “Making and Knowing Project,” under the direction of Professor Pamela Smith, each was responsible for reconstructing, annotating, and contextualizing historical recipes from a sixteenth-century French manuscript. Working both in and beyond their chemistry lab, the authors reflect on the unique challenges and unexpected rewards of learning by doing, stepping outside of academic comfort zones, and finding success in failure. The compiling of these collective encounters depended on cooperation and coordination, as the authors worked across continents—via email, phone, text, and video chat—in keeping with the project’s international, interdisciplinary, and innovative working methods. This contribution to the Common Knowledge symposium “Inside the Humanities Classroom” represents individual perspectives on a dynamic and demanding group project that the participants feel, in retrospect, had much in common with a Renaissance workshop.

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