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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell Wins Andrew Mellon Grant

In potentially one of the most ground-breaking developments in recent campus news, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Grinnell College and the University of Iowa a joint grant of $1.6 million to stimulate a cohesive partnership in creating digital projects in the humanities. The general hope is that the fund, billed as the “Digital Bridges for Humanistic Inquiry,” will inspire mass collaboration between the variety of faculty members, databases and archives that sustain the two institutions, and also take advantage of the unique benefits that a large university and small private college each enjoy.

The grant itself will instigate a new caliber of projects for the College, according to Professor James Lee, English. Lee has previously utilized data analysis and digital research techniques in his interdisciplinary humanities project, “Mapping the Global Renaissance,” in which he and his students engaged in a textual discourse and mapping of the works of Shakespeare and other Renaissance artists and their reference to Asia. This new collaborative relationship will allow the College to make use of University of Iowa’s Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, Digital Studio for Public Arts and Humanities, and graduate certificate program in Digital Humanities, and Lee is enthusiastic about further such projects that can be created with greater resources.

“Large-scale data analysis and visualization techniques open up a new level of scale in the study of language and culture. A single human reader cannot work through and remember every word of 25,000 texts. The digital methods allow us to work through vast numbers of documents, finding trends at an aggregate level beyond the scope of the individual’s reading eye,” Lee said.

Lee said he believes this grant carries a significant message.

“It’s terrific that the Mellon Foundation is acknowledging the liberal arts college as a place of innovation in areas like digital teaching and research,” he said.

Professor Erik Simpson, English, envisions the grant allowing for independent research and hands-on creation for students.

“I used to plan a class starting with the question, ‘What will we read this semester?’” Simpson said. “Now, in some classes, I plan from the question, ‘What will we make this semester?’ or even, ‘How will we decide together what to make?’”

Simpson sees the digital liberal arts as a field in which to create large-scale creative teams across both campuses.

“With the support of the grant … we want to go beyond the individual faculty member’s teaching and research to form new kinds of academic collaborations that may include faculty, students, technologists, librarians, gallery staff and community partners,” Simpson said.

Mike Latham, Dean and Vice President for Academic Affiairs, imagines the projects made possible by this grant will increase impressive experience and employment opportunities for many students involved.

“[The Mellon grant affords] our students a set of highly marketable tools and experiences that allow them to think really creatively about how to use technological platforms and how to learn across those platforms and how to talk to prospective graduate schools and employers about what they’ve been able to accomplish,” Latham said.

It is similarly important to Simpson that the student benefits of these projects reach beyond the perimeters of campus.

“Finding ways to share students’ work with an audience beyond the classroom has become increasingly important for me as well, and, of course, digital projects often set out to reach such an audience,” Simpson said.

Lee added that this grant will create opportunities for revolutionary digital work in the humanities, and that he fully believes Grinnell is up for the challenge.

“Grinnell students exhibit a rare form of intellectual agility to think across disciplinary boundaries as they are traditionally constituted,” Lee said.

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