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Mellon Grant to Boost Humanities at Duke

Five-year project to develop new humanities labs, promote HBCU collaborations and ties with Durham Tech

The English department launched a pilot lab for the Humanities Unbounded grant proposal, “Representing Migration.” Shown are lab members English Professors Charlotte Sussman and Jarvis McInnis with doctoral student Karen Little and sophomore Liddy Grantla
The English department launched a pilot lab for the Humanities Unbounded proposal, “Representing Migration.” Shown are Professors Charlotte Sussman and Jarvis McInnis with doctoral student Karen Little and sophomore Liddy Grantland. Photo by Les Todd

Duke University will expand on its commitment to a strong humanities curriculum and forge new collaborations beyond campus with a $3 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, President Vincent E. Price said Friday.

The funding will establish Humanities Unbounded, which will run from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2023. The initiative will focus on three major areas: 

  • Developing new collaborative curricula models that blend undergraduate education with faculty research and graduate student training.
  • Deepening Duke’s relationships with liberal arts colleges and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
  • Piloting a new teaching partnership with Durham Technical Community College. 

“Duke has long been engaged in building the future of the humanities, both through undergraduate teaching and faculty scholarship,” Price said. “We are grateful for the support of the Mellon Foundation, which will help us strengthen existing partnerships and forge new connections on our campus and beyond.”   

Humanities Unbounded will build on the success of Humanities Writ Large (HWL), an initiative aimed at changing the role of the humanities at Duke. HWL supported labs that integrated undergraduates with faculty and graduate students engaged in humanities and social science research. With Humanities Unbounded, Duke seeks to scale up these efforts, such as embedding the humanities’ lab structure into humanities departments and curricula. 

“We plan to develop nine humanities labs over the course of the grant, and we believe this will create innovative and flexible educational pathways that will expose more Duke students to the richness of humanistic thinking and its exciting research possibilities,” said Gennifer Weisenfeld, dean of the humanities.

The program will be led by Weisenfeld, an art historian; historian Edward Balleisen, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies; and Ranjana Khanna, director of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke and professor of English, women’s studies and literature.

Humanities lab funding will support course development, research assistance, graduate student training, website and multimedia production, visits by external partners, research trips, student projects, and faculty and staff training in lab development and operations.

Humanities Unbounded will strengthen connections with liberal arts colleges and HBCUs through a series of two-year visiting faculty fellowships. The first year will be spent in residence at Duke, where fellows will conduct research and develop collaborative relationships. During the second year, fellows will receive funding to share their Duke experiences with their home campuses after returning to teaching, and to continue research collaborations. 

Humanities Unbounded will also pilot a teaching partnership with Durham Technical Community College, which serves a diverse population of 20,000 students. The pilot will pair graduate student research assistants from Duke with Durham Tech faculty. The pairs will then work to develop innovative teaching modules that could include collaborative research, community‐based oral histories, the reorientation of syllabi around a case study approach or the development of online resources. The project will focus on Durham Tech courses eligible for transfer credit, thereby preparing students to continue at four-year institutions.

"This new partnership will generate great benefits for both institutions," said William Ingram, president of Durham Tech. “It creates exciting opportunities for our instructors to further enhance and develop their pedagogy, and that will have long-term benefits for our curriculum.”