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15 Arts and Humanities Research and Passion Project Ideas For Middle and High School Students

8 minute read

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The arts and humanities are extremely diverse fields that offer a lot of opportunities for creative passion projects. Through these projects, middle and high school students can share their unique stories and experiences with the world. Students can also dive into the richness of human history, traditions, and cultures, and begin to develop an appreciation for the diversity of human experiences.

In this article, we’ll dive into 15 arts and humanities passion project ideas that you can either try to execute on your own or use as inspiration for a project you design. We’ll also cover how you can decide which project or topic to focus on, and navigate the diverse range of ideas in the arts and humanities.

Finding Your Arts and Humanities Project Focus

There are a million different directions you can take with your arts and humanities research or passion project, so first it’s important to sit down with yourself and think through what personal interests you have. Maybe there’s a specific kind of art, music, dance, author, or culture that you’re already interested in. If you find yourself in that position, great! You can choose to dive deeper into any of those interests. If you’re not entirely sure what you’re interested in, do some exploring to find inspiration (e.g., go to museums or exhibitions in your area and see if anything catches your eye, utilize brainstorming steps and methods to generate project ideas).

After you’ve found some initial passion project ideas, the easiest step from there is just to Google or YouTube those topics and start learning more about them. You’ll find that as you start to conduct preliminary research into a few ideas, one will probably start to stand out to you more than the others.

As you explore different ideas, also be open to the possibility of pursuing a project that combines the arts or humanities with other disciplines. For example, maybe you start to learn interesting concepts about philosophy and ethics, and you’re simultaneously interested in genetic engineering. Those two concepts combined could make for a pretty compelling project, so always think outside of the box!

Also remember that the end product of your project is totally up to you as well. Don’t feel like the end product always has to be a research paper or presentation. You could create a website to share your learnings, do a TED Talk or podcast, and try many other ways to present your work.

15 Creative Arts and Humanities Project Ideas

1. How Does Aristotle Inform Decision-Making at the End of Life in the U.S. Healthcare System? 

All medical decisions are grounded in moral values, and clinicians should have an ethical framework to guide their decision-making process when people are near the end of their lives. This project can apply principles of Aristotle's seminal work, Nicomachean Ethics, to topics of end-of-life decision-making such as artificial nutrition, code status changes, and brain death.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Avery

2. Music Evolution Through The Decades: Analyzing The History of Your Favorite Music Genre 

Middle or high school students can pick their favorite genre of music and research the history of this genre, including key artists who influenced the genre, cities where the genre was developed, and different styles and phases the genre went through. You could also analyze different societal factors, like political climate, racial tension and community structures that impacted music production during each time period.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Mimi

3. Riots, Parties, and Protests

How can theater and performance help us understand the politics of protest? You can use theater performance as a lens for digging into the strategies of political and social movements. Analyze how groups and individuals articulate their goals and use their bodies to disrupt and reimagine everyday spaces.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Kelly

4. Is a Portrait of the King Propaganda? 

In 16th century Europe, artists like Hans Holbein the Younger worked for royal courts, creating portraits for wealthy and affluent citizens. A student could do a research project about how the art created by painters like Hans Holbein relates to propaganda as we now understand it, and how the portraits actually may have served a political purpose.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Sarah

5. Scoring a Film Scene

If you’re a teen who’s into music making and also have a passion for movies, this project is perfect for you! Select a sample scene from a film (preferably one that doesn’t already have a score in the background) and come up with an initial idea for a score for that scene. Think about how you want the audience to feel in the moment and how it complements the visual aspects of the scene.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Cody

6. Poetry and Social Media 

The rise of social media networks, particularly Instagram, have created a boom in the poetry world because of the quick and widespread way these short, imagistic poems can circulate. How has social media impacted the study of poetry as we know it? Have more people been interested in poetry because of these "instapoets"?

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Leela

7. Segregation and Colonialism in an East African City 

For this project, middle or high school students can write a research paper, visual essay, or interactive blog post about the history of segregation and colonialism in an East African city of their choice, for example Kampala or Nairobi. Drawing on colonial archives, newspapers, urban town plans, research papers, and more, students will examine how, under colonialism, East Africa's cities were designed to segregate communities along racial lines. Analyze the construction of neighborhoods, laws, and urban infrastructure to understand how and why the city was segregated.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Kristen

8. Studying Peace and Violence 

Research topics about peace and violence from a theoretical standpoint and try to develop an understanding of why different types of wars and conflicts continue to happen around the world? Depending on your individual interests, this could culminate in a traditional research paper or op-ed, or, alternatively, an educational video or podcast.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Shauna

9. Photo Ethnography of a Place 

In this middle or high school student project, you will be able to tell the story of a place in your own city or town - a museum, a zoo, a park, a cafe, a music store, a forest, a library, etc, relying only on the pictures you take of that place. You will try to tell others about why this location is important for you or your community.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Magdalena

10. Curate an Exhibition

This project will enable you to research a specific art historical topic while also learning the skills involved in curating a museum-based exhibition. You can start by selecting a general topic in art history. This could be an artistic movement (e.gImpressionism, Abstract Expressionism, The Harlem Renaissance), a specific artist (e.g., Claude Monet, Helen Frankenthaler, James Van Der Zee), or another theme of your choosing. After some preliminary research, you will decide on a title and thesis for your exhibition, then generate three “deliverables”: You will create a “checklist” of artworks to include, “wall labels” for each of these objects (i.e., a very short paragraph that explains the artwork to a viewer), and then a short brochure for potential museum visitors!

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Izabel

11. Why is America So Polarized?

Why does political polarization matter? And can we do anything about it? This project could involve reviewing scholarly literature, gathering and analyzing data, and presenting results in the form of a scientific research paper, blog, social media account, or other platform of your choosing. You might identify potential interventions that could help decrease polarization in your school or local community. If interested, you could use research methods such as data visualization, text analysis, questionnaire design, or interviews.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Alexandra

12. Literary Magazine Concept Design

In this project, you will design an idea for a new literary magazine. First, learn about the variety of literary magazines that exist today, what their creative and practical models are, what their aesthetic is, and how they are run and funded. You will then apply this knowledge to creating a custom idea for your own literary magazine! If you are passionate about great writing and literary publishing, this is a great project for you.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Margarita

13. How to Write an Argument

Throughout our lives, we encounter arguments. They are designed to provide reasons for us to come to conclusions about the world, and are necessary to convince anyone of anything. However, arguments are often difficult to articulate and complex. The goal of this project is to learn how to become better at making arguments. Learn more about the logical structure of arguments, common fallacies, examples of strong arguments, and examples of bad arguments.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Will

14. History is Written by The Victors

Choose one event in history that you are interested in. Research three different memorials, monuments, or museums dedicated to this event. This is a good opportunity to examine bias in historical records and public memory—what gets remembered and what is lost over time? Which aspects of the event are emphasized and which are not mentioned? What is important to people now versus what was important to people in the past? 

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Rebecca

15. Costume Design Research & Sketching For Period Accuracy 

With shows like The Queen's Gambit, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, The Crown, Outlander, and Stranger Things, we are given the gift of time travel. We almost feel like we are in those times with the details and idiosyncrasies some shows and movies bring to us. But how do costume designers, production designers and fashion historians do their research? Learn more about historical fashion research and see if you can gain an understanding of how it works. If you want to take the project a step further, brainstorm your own idea for a TV show or movie set in a certain time period and think through what costumes your characters would wear to reflect that era.

Idea by arts and humanities research mentor Desira

Examples of Arts and Humanities Passion Projects Completed by Polygence Students

At Polygence, we’ve had numerous students explore arts and humanities projects with the help of a Polygence research mentor.

For example, Israel’s project focused on studying Leonardo Da Vinci and his legacy, before creating his own conceptual drawing that incorporated different facets of Da Vinci.

Hannah’s project was a five-act play that she created after studying 16th century Haarlem, a city in the Netherlands. The play incorporates accurate historical details and explores the roles of men and women in and out of wartime.

Summary

In this article, we covered how to find an arts and humanities project that interests you and shared 15 different passion project ideas from our extensive network of research mentors. Of course, these are just a few of many different potential project ideas, and we encourage you to be curious and explore arts and humanities project ideas beyond this list.

If you’re interested in pursuing an arts and humanities passion project, Polygence’s programs are a great place to start and offer excellent mentorship along the way.

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