More Proof That Mellon's Humanities Vision Leaves No Stone Unturned

In a previous post, we asked, "What Does Mellon's Big Vision for the Humanities Look Like?" Turns out a lot more than meets the eye.

In the philanthropy world, it's easy to become enamored with foundations that seek to "revolutionize" a specific segment of society. It makes headlines. It's sexy. But if the foundation is truly serious in its aims, further investigation will reveal smaller, more incremental and workmanlike initiatives that, when taken in total, help to turn the tide. The Knight Foundation's efforts in boosting traditional newsrooms in a highly disruptive digital age comes to mind.

Then there's the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's efforts to revamp the field of humanities. Mellon is well aware that it has a lot of ground to cover, and recent grants suggest that the foundation is taking a holistic, root-and-branch approach.

In fact, an analysis of Mellon's recent grants suggests a distinct effort by the foundation to influence practically all facets of the humanities field. Since analogies can be helpful, consider the image of a spoked wheel. Mellon's vision lies at the center as the hub, with various, interrelated grants springing outward like spokes.

Which brings us to spoke number one: faculty.

The humanities can't evolve without properly training faculty in the ever-changing field of liberal arts. And so Mellon awarded $100,000 to both the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. The grant to the former will address professional development for humanities faculty and review current teaching practices. The grant to the latter will also provide professional development to—and we're quoting the press release, here—"enhance understanding of and the ability to meet the needs of first-generation students and American students of color."

Spoke number two, meanwhile, is a topic near and dear to Mellon's heart: digital humanities, which describes the integration of digital and computation technologies into humanities research. The foundation awarded the University of Pennsylvania a $2 million grant to support ongoing digital initiatives, including the university's consolidation of existing digital resources in an effort to strengthen humanities teaching and research.

We mentioned these grants because they're the most timely. But of course, there are more spokes in Mellon's "Humanities Vision Wheel." (We made that up.) They include classic scholarship initiatives, efforts to modernize bibliographical studies, re-imagining how humanities departments build out their collections, and equipping liberal arts students with practical skills to land quality jobs in the real world.