Mellon Grant to Fund Digital Humanities Initiative

Over the next five years, the Claremont
Colleges will receive $1.5 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in
support of undergraduate digital humanities programs. The grant will support
the improvement or creation of as many as 25 academic courses that incorporate
digital humanities techniques. 

The field of
digital humanities focuses on finding innovative ways in which technology can
be applied to disciplines such as music, philosophy, linguistics or history, according to Pitzer College media studies professor Alexandra Juhasz, who will be directing the project.

“I think about it
as using digital and other technologies to expand and improve the kinds of
questions humanists can ask, the kinds of methods humanists can use to answer
those questions,” Juhasz said. “Nearly everything we do as
humans—everything we study and think about as humanities scholars—has been
affected by digital and other technologies.”

Jacqueline
Wernimont, former assistant professor of English at Scripps College and
currently an assistant professor of English at Arizona State University, was the faculty lead on the development of a grant
request last year. Wernimont worked with a faculty advisory committee and other
staff members including Jeff
Groves, a dean of faculty and a literature
professor at Harvey Mudd College.

“We also held a number of
events over the 13/14 year to hear what kinds of digital humanities efforts
faculty and students were interested in,” Wernimont wrote in an email to TSL.

The grant dollars are expected to
be phased in over the next five years and dispersed among the five
undergraduate institutions. 

“I think it’s a
timely move to emphasize the tech and digital sides of the humanities,”
Chase Weinholtz PZ ’17 said. “It seems like the bulk of humanities in the
classical sense have been separate from computer science and other things of
the like.”

The resources that have been made available by the grant are expected to extend beyond the classroom, including through the establishment of a digital humanities research studio. The studio, partly modeled on HMC’s clinic programs according to Wernimont, will serve as a base for collaborative research opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members across the consortium.

Although details have yet to be finalized, the studio will most likely be in the Honnold/Mudd Library.

The Mellon Foundation is a
nonprofit organization that supports a variety of humanities and arts
organizations, with a particular focus on higher education. Senior Program Officer Eugene M. Tobin, who manages grants for liberal arts colleges and higher education at the foundation, wrote in an email to TSL that the foundation
has been supporting digital humanities scholarship for many years.

“We believe that digital and
visual literacy are vital elements in a liberal arts education in much the same
way as colleges and universities have recognized that critical thinking,
analytical and quantitative reasoning, and writing skills are essential to
becoming an educated person,” Tobin wrote.

Along with Juhasz, Groves will
help oversee allocating the funds. Groves explained that even though there will not be visible
developments in the beginning phase of the grant, students will be able to see “by the third year, research opportunities
in which students and faculty members work together to explore topics in the
humanities through digital means.”

Organizers are also planning a
Digital Humanities Symposium next semester at the Claremont Colleges. The
event, which will be open to the public, will be an opportunity for a wide
range of speakers and academic scholars to share their ideas and plan future
collaborations surrounding digital humanities.

“The symposium … will
educate faculty members new to the digital humanities about this growing field,
encouraging them along the way to develop courses or research projects that fit
within the scope of the grant,” Groves
said.

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