How Is Mellon's Big Vision for the Humanities Shaping Up?

A little over a year ago, we sketched out the framework for the Andrew W. Mellon's vision for the humanities in an age of social media, smart phones and 140 characters. In short, its future state is not unlike, say, Knight's for journalism. Mellon envisions a world in which the humanities and liberal arts coexist with technology. 

Simple enough, right? Not exactly. As with most forward-looking plans, the devil's always in the details. 

And so we've been looking at examples of how Mellon's grantmaking aims to operationalize its vision. Back in September, for example, we noted Mellon's holistic approach that includes faculty professional development and ambitious digital initiatives. All of which brings us to two recent gives that fall squarely within Mellon's holistic framework.

The first is a $1.5 million grant to Amherst College to make teaching "more inclusive and effective for students" starting in the fall of 2016. "For faculty who’ve been here for a long time, there’s a sense of, 'Oh, the students aren't responding the same way they used to,'" said Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein. And so the grant will help the college "train faculty to teach to a range of students" by providing seminars and workshops on new teaching methods, such as adapting to tech-savvy students who, in many cases, may be more technically proficient than their professors. The grant will also provide financial incentives for faculty to spend part of their summer developing new ways to teach.

Secondly, Mellon awarded a $650,000 grant to Wake Forest University in support of "engaged humanities" — teaching, learning, mentoring and real-world problem solving that moves beyond the classroom. According to the university:

Funding will support a range of humanities-inflected programming, including, in response to high faculty demand, more opportunity for cross-disciplinary faculty to teach together and offer students the benefit of intentional cross-disciplinary learning, particularly in the context of publicly engaged courses, for which faculty have increasingly been seeking support.

The grants share two traits: one, acknowledgement that shiny technological things are nice, but they can't replace the connection between a professor and his or her students (at least not yet). Second, in an increasingly digital world replete with diverse, tech-savy students, teaching must evolve. And Mellon is providing the roadmap.