BorderWork(s) Lab Explores New Interdisciplinary Opportunities

November 10, 2011

Colin Hoogerwerf, MEM ‘13, Nicholas School Communications Student Assistant

DURHAM, N.C. – Nicholas School faculty and students who are interested in forging interdisciplinary solutions to real-world problems should check out an innovative new project at Duke University’s Franklin Humanities Institute Laboratories Initiative.

The project, called the BorderWork(s) Lab, brings together Duke faculty and students from history, cultural anthropology, human rights, and environmental policy.

Its goal is to foster greater interdisciplinary teaching and research at Duke, and promote a broader understanding of issues relating to social, political and geographic boundaries, borders, and walls, and how they affect our understanding of policy, human rights, and the environment.

Erika Weinthal, associate professor of environmental policy at the Nicholas School, is one of the lab’s co-directors.

The graduate- and undergraduate-level courses taught through the lab cover a broad array of border-related topics, Weinthal says, and environmental issues often play a central role.

“We look at topics such as the role of the environment in causing human migration and refugee flows,” she says. “Places of special interest include the human consequences of physical and political borders, and areas that lie on or next to contested political or social boundaries.”

An important feature of BorderWork(s) is the research and collaboration space it operates at the Smith Warehouse, at 114 S. Buchanan Blvd.  The space gives faculty and students a place to engage with one another on research.  It also fosters greater opportunities for interaction between different schools and programs.

Students can get involved in a number of ways, says Ian Baucom, Franklin Humanities Institute director.

Undergraduate students can work on research projects, have internships in the lab, or get involved in independent studies.  A current independent study is looking at refugees and displaced persons and exploring issues related to natural resources and policy within refugee camps. More information about this and other independent study opportunities are available at the BorderWorks website,

Graduate students can conduct research with faculty members and participate as research assistants or teaching assistants. The lab is also open to innovative ideas from interested students that help to push the limits of traditional research, Baucom stresses.

Nicholas School faculty and students who’d like to learn more about BorderWork(s) laboratories, and how they might participate in them, can contact Weinthal at, or stop by the Smith Warehouse location.

For a list of upcoming speakers and events at BorderWork(s), go to