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Digital Publications Initiative receives Mellon Foundation grant

Six-year grant to expand, fund new digital humanities scholarship projects

The University will expand its Digital Publications Initiative with the help of a six-year, $775,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The grant, awarded last month, will fund new long-form humanities scholarship that challenges the limitations of printed media. It builds upon the first five faculty projects developed with a $1.3 million 2014 grant from the Mellon Foundation as part of the Digital Publications Initiative.

“Part of the premise of this project is to harness the capabilities of the digital environment to do scholarship in a way that would be difficult or impossible to do in traditional publication formats,” said University Librarian Joseph Meisel. He added that the project provides the “opportunity to incorporate rich, multimedia materials,” such as audio, video and simulations into academic work.

“We’re hoping to have every year or so another project during this next phase,” said Kevin McLaughlin, dean of the faculty and co-principal investigator for the initiative.

“There are a lot of dynamic, interactive features that are intended to advance the scholarly argument in ways that you could not otherwise do,” said Allison Levy, digital scholarship editor for the initiative. “We are developing long-form interactive multi-modal scholarly publications that are born digital” and “most likely exclusively digital,” she added.

The initiative increases access to scholarship and engages audiences in new ways. “Everywhere where there is an internet connection, these digital projects can be delivered,” McLaughlin said. “We’re at the leading edge of this project in terms of exploring the capacity of digital scholarly publication.”

While the first phase of the initiative “was really devoted to try and build up the infrastructure for producing some digital projects in the library,” faculty interest has increased every year, McLaughlin said. “Now we’re getting a lot of proposals.”

After receiving the second grant, the initiative announced the development of two new projects in an Oct. 23 Today@Brown announcement. There are now seven total projects under development, spanning the disciplines of history, art history, Italian studies, Middle East studies, literary arts and theater and performance studies.

Sawako Nakayasu, assistant professor of literary arts, is currently developing her project, “The Past and Future of Chika Sagawa, Japanese Modernist Poet.”

“The current project is to make a digital publication that brings together (Sagawa’s) poetry in both languages and also original publications from journals,” Nakayasu said. The project will “create a platform where one can see a more expansive view of the modernist period where she was writing.”

The University of Virginia Press recently accepted Professor of History Tara Nummedal’s project, “Furnace and Fugue: A Digital Edition of Michael Maier’s ‘Atalanta fugiens’ (1618) with Scholarly Commentary,” for publication in the fall of 2020. Her project explores the seventeenth-century text in a multimedia form, and its audio and visual components will “allow people to hear the book, hear the music,” Nummedal said.

Although the initiative pushes the boundaries of traditional humanities academia, “not every piece of humanities scholarship needs to be this kind of work that’s being supported under the initiative,” Meisel said.

The University is unlikely to receive further funding from the Mellon Foundation once the second grant expires in six years, McLaughlin said. Although most of the Foundation’s projects are long-term partnerships with institutions, the Foundation intends for the University to eventually support the initiative by itself, McLaughlin added. The Mellon Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

“The real question for the University for a project like this is to attract funding from donors that will, for example, create an endowment that will support this into the future,” McLaughlin said. If the University decides that the project is valuable “as part of our research capacity, we would want endowment support that would allow us to do this in perpetuity.”



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