Why Should We Care About The Mellon Foundation's Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography?

Sometimes it's the little things that count.

That's my takeaway from news that the University of Virgina's Rare Book School selected its third cohort of 20 early-career academics who will participate in a highly competitive, three-year program, the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography.

Let me explain.

Students of Mellon's recent funding priorities know the foundation has a bold vision for the humanities in the 21st century. For example, a recent $2 million grant to Carnegie Mellon University will help its humanities department use "technology-enhanced learning to transform and enhance graduate education" and advance digital scholarship.

As I previously noted, Mellon has seen the future and it involves clearly unromantic technological trends like big data, social media, and advanced computational analysis.

But Mellon's recent gifts also underscore the logic that technology-focused, next-generation humanities must also embrace the field's core competencies—things like scholarship, critical thinking, and good old-fashioned research. Technology must complement—rather than detract from—the things the humanities are meant to do.

Which brings us back to the Mellon Fellowship at the Rare Book School. The fellowship's goal is nothing less than to reinvigorate bibliographical studies within the humanities.

RBS-Mellon Fellows receive advanced, intensive training in the analysis of textual artifacts. Led by a distinguished faculty drawn from the bibliographical community and professionals in allied fields, fellows attend annual research-oriented seminars at the Rare Book School and at major special collections libraries nationwide. They also receive stipends to support research-related travel to special collections and additional funds to host academic symposia at their home institutions.

Now let's be honest. In our 140-character, headline-driven, over-hyped media world, most folks would find a fellowship devoted to bibliographical studies within the humanities to be quaint and innocuous. Does it signal a massive tectonic shift in the world of academia? Not really.

But that's precisely the point. At its philanthropic heart, the Mellon Foundation is purist, especially when it comes to the humanities. And as the field barrels ahead into the future, Mellon understands that more often than not, it's the little things that count.