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November 20, 2013

$1M grant supports emerging field of digital humanities

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the University a $1 million grant to support an innovative graduate program that will unite the study of humanities with the latest technology. The award is one of a series of grants the Mellon Foundation has made in recent years that equip faculty and students at colleges and universities with new tools and protocols of the digital humanities.

The grant will provide select PhD students in the humanities with two years of support to study and learn to use the new technology. Developed by Rochester faculty, the new program will train humanities students to integrate digital technologies into innovative research programs.

“The Mellon Foundation’s generous grant fortifies the University’s long-standing commitment to the humanities while creating new important avenues for innovative and interdisciplinary study,” says President Joel Seligman.

The grant supports a series of recent University investments in the digital humanities, including the hiring of digital media faculty and the newly opened Ronald Rettner Hall for Media Arts and Innovation, dedicated Oct. 11. Rettner Hall, a space designed to facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration through technology, will serve as a home to much of the work in the new fellowship program.

Students from any of Rochester’s four humanities PhD programs—English, history, philosophy, and visual and cultural studies—are invited to apply for admission to the fellowship. Graduate fellows will study the theory and practice of digital humanities to discover new avenues of inquiry within their own fields, and to serve as apprentices and mentors to communities of undergraduates and faculty members who are collaborating on research projects.

“This grant will provide sophisticated technology training to our graduate students and enable them to expand the ways in which their scholarly work is shaped,” says Thomas DiPiero, dean for humanities and interdisciplinary studies. “This will push the limits of humanities research, producing technologically proficient humanities scholars who are well-versed in the use of digital research and discovery tools.”

Robert Clark, dean of the Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, says the new fellowship reflects a “creative collaboration of the arts, humanities, and computer science that will yield a new generation of innovators.”

In addition to seminars and coursework on digital humanities theory and practice, fellows will participate in faculty-led group research projects called “Humanities Labs.” In the labs, fellows will work with technologies such as data visualization, new archival methods, textual markup and web construction, and digital editing.

The grant for the graduate fellowship complements a similar program that is under way for Rochester undergraduates— the digital media studies major, which was offered to students starting in fall 2012.

“I chose digital media studies for its versatility,” says Sadé Richardson ’15, who majors in digital media studies and public health. “It has allowed me to incorporate all of my interests in some way. I’ve had the opportunity to take classes ranging from studio art to computer science.” Richardson says that the variety of technical skills she learned in her digital media studies classes will be beneficial in addressing public health issues when she pursues a career in that field.

Fellows in the digital humanities graduate program will present their work in a spring semester symposium at the end of their second year of study. Upon completion of the two-year program, they will earn a certificate

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