News Release: Arts and Humanities, University News

Feb. 8,  2010

Emory $2.4 Million Grant Supports Changes in Humanities

Emory University has received a grant of $2.4 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the reassessment, reconfiguration and strengthening of the humanities across the university.

"This initiative comes at a key moment in Emory's history," says Earl Lewis, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. "Given the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of inquiry and the development of new methodological tools, the university has been anticipating the need for strategic changes in hiring, departmental intellectual configuration, research, publication and scholarly collaborations."

"At Emory and throughout higher education, these changes are expected to accelerate further in the coming decade," says Lewis. "Hiring in the humanities will need to be done very differently in the future. Emory is anticipating hiring a new generation in the humanities who will have both deep training in the humanities and broad training in other areas."

As an example, Lewis cites the interdisciplinary collaborations surrounding this month's opening of the Salman Rushdie archive, much of which was born digital material.

At the core of the program will be the recruitment of a cohort of junior and mid-career faculty across the humanities, says Claire Sterk, senior vice provost for academic affairs. These new faculty will form the core of a "Society of Fellows" who will work to help guide how humanities departments and faculty can export principles of humanistic inquiry across the university. They also will seek opportunities for transformation of the humanities themselves at Emory.

Graduate students also will be included as Student Fellows in the program, their involvement serving as a bridge to the next generation of faculty.

"Emory is willing to take a risk and step away from the traditional way we think about humanistic inquiry," says Sterk. While science research at other universities has begun to move toward research in the humanities, "one of the things that's unique about Emory's approach is that we're proposing bringing the humanities into science research, including the health sciences."

The program will start small, bringing in a cohort of two to four people and building from there. Recruitment, says Sterk, will start immediately.

Lewis says he sees the program building on three broad areas: digital scholarship, mind/brain neuroscience and humanities in the age of the human genome. "It's becoming impossible to talk about what it means to be human and recognizing DNA analysis without inserting humanities scholars into the conversation with life scientists," he says.

Integral to these initiatives, says Lewis, will be Emory University Libraries, "which becomes a setting for these conversations and a partner in helping create this intellectual community," along with Emory's Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry

Faculty already involved in the program expect its reach to be felt across the university, says Sterk, especially in Emory and Oxford colleges and at Candler School of Theology.

Sterk says refocusing the humanities could have multiple impacts on higher education and help define the future role of the liberal arts at a research university. "Emory will have wonderful opportunities to show how research scholarship in the humanities really contributes to the common good," she says.

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