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Mellon Foundation Awards $2M to Advance Black Studies and Digital Humanities

July 08, 2019 African American History, Culture and Digital Humanities

Geometric collage in red and black featuring images of important people in African American history and culture

Grant will expand research and mentor-training programs.

By K. Lorraine Graham | Photo illustration by Jeanette J. Nelson

College Park, Md.—The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a three-year, $2,000,000 grant to the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) for the second phase of the African American History, Culture and Digital Humanities (AADHUM) initiative. Housed in the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), AADHUUM seeks to expand and institutionalize the field of Black digital humanities at UMD and beyond.  

Since its inception three years ago, AADHUM has been an incubator for innovative scholarship and teaching that increases access to important resources on African American history and culture in America while creating a new generation of technologically-savvy researchers.

The first phase of AADHUM was funded by a $1.25 million Mellon Foundation grant, bringing together students and scholars of African American studies and digital humanities to enrich and expand both fields. The original grant enabled the AADHUM team to lay the foundation necessary to meet the challenges of the integration of scholarship, training and community engagement. 

"African American history and culture are central to American history and culture," said Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the college and professor of women’s studies. "Making this knowledge widely available and giving people the opportunity to have hands-on experiences using digital technology to tell important stories is critical to enhancing our democracy."

An undergraduate research course on African American history and culture and digital archives is exemplary of AADHum's inclusive approach. Assistant Professor of Communications Catherine Knight Steele, who directed the initiative through June 2019, collaboratively taught the course with AADHUM postdoctoral associate Jessica Lu. Students created archival projects around Black digital culture and learned a variety of coding languages and digital tools to build them. They presented their work at the inaugural AADHUM conference in 2018, "Intentionally Digital, Intentionally Black."

Thornton Dill will continue to lead the project with Daryle Williams, associate professor of history and ARHU associate dean for faculty affairs, and Trevor Muñoz, interim director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) and assistant dean for digital humanities research in the University of Maryland Libraries.

The leadership team will establish a long-term home for black digital humanities at UMD by hiring additional faculty, formalizing a competitive graduate research training and professionalization experience, offering mentor-training programs, expanding research partnerships with nearby historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and developing best practices for tenure and promotion in black digital humanities. 

Muñoz said AADHUM has transformed the practice of digital humanities at MITH.

“If MITH offers a workshop on digital mapping, we need to make space for discussing the vulnerability that mapping certain populations, like activists or undocumented immigrants, creates,” he said. “AADHUM has shifted our approach to what we study and how we study it."

UMD has significant resources to support and sustain AADHUM's work. In recent years, ARHU has hired 10 new faculty members in different units who work in African American history and culture. With the support of MITH and several other ARHU units, the college also launched a new graduate certificate in Digital Studies in the Arts and Humanities in 2017. 

"AADHum's innovative model of scholarship and training gives us a template for conducting research in the field of cultural studies using digital tools,"said Thornton Dill. "This interdisciplinary approach will help both scholars and students address the wonders and challenges of a diverse, changing world," said Thornton Dill.