U. of Southern California Gets Mellon Money to Train Digital Scholars

In yet another sign that the digital humanities are working their way into higher education at every level, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a five-year, $1.9-million grant to the University of Southern California to support graduate-level training in digital scholarship, the university announced on Tuesday. The grant will pay for two-year fellowships for humanities Ph.D. candidates and postdoctoral researchers.

It also includes money to run workshops, to digitize and preserve research materials, and to cover the cost of coursework toward a digital-humanities certificate from the Institute for Multimedia Literacy in USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

Across academe, the growing interest in digital scholarship has infiltrated undergraduate humanities classrooms, created new preservation challenges for scholars and librarians, and raised questions about how to reward innovative work.

The Mellon Foundation has made serious investments in the digital humanities in recent years, putting money behind ventures like Digital Scholarship: Projects & Pedagogy at the Five Colleges of Ohio (Denison, Kenyon, Oberlin, Ohio Wesleyan, and Wooster). The substantial amount of money involved in the USC grant suggests that the foundation’s interest in such work only continues to grow.

USC, meanwhile, has made digital scholarship one of its long-term priorities. Last year the university said it expected to make a $1-billion investment in “digital knowledge and informatics” over the next decade. That money will come from a mix of university, federal, and foundation sources, according to Elizabeth Garrett, USC’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

The Mellon grant “really is a nice recognition of our commitment to the digital humanities and in fact to the expansion of digital knowledge across all the disciplines,” Ms. Garrett told The Chronicle. “USC has had a real visibility” in digital scholarship, she said.

Strong in traditional humanities fields as well as cinema and media studies, the university is also home to the USC Shoah Foundation and its vast audiovisual collection of first-person histories of the Holocaust. Digital-humanities training helps equip scholars to work with data on that scale.

“If someone wants to sit down and watch every testimony in that archives, it would take 13 years nonstop,” said Peter C. Mancall, a professor of history and anthropology, vice dean of the humanities, and principal investigator for the Mellon grant. “But that archive is indexed, and that index is loaded into computers capable of processing big data very quickly.”

The Mellon money will help USC train up-and-coming humanists to use technology to interpret such resources and to present their research in new ways, Mr. Mancall said. “We are training people—graduate students and postdocs—in traditional disciplines. But the world has changed, and the world has embraced this idea of digital humanities.”

Students who receive the new Mellon-funded fellowships will be encouraged to work with one of USC’s interdisciplinary centers as part of their digital-humanities training. But they’re also expected to become experts in their individual fields.

“We don’t want to move away from a real foundation in disciplines,” Mr. Mancall said. “We still want people to get a degree in English. We still want them to get a degree in art history. But we want them to go out into the world capable of telling their stories to a wider audience.”

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