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$1.9 million awarded to humanities 2.0

USC is committed to supporting digital technologies

by Carl Marziali
Preservation of digital materials is one example of the work covered by the digital humanities initiative. (Photo/John Livzey)
Photo: Preservation of digital materials is one example of the work covered by the digital humanities initiative. (Photo/John Livzey)

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded USC a $1.9 million grant to support a program of graduate and postdoctoral training in the digital humanities.

The foundation makes grants on a selective basis in the areas of higher education, humanities and the arts. It has been a long-standing benefactor to USC, supporting, in addition to this gift, a wide array of university initiatives.

The award is one in a series of grants the Mellon Foundation has made over the past few years that enable research universities and liberal arts colleges to equip growing cohorts of faculty and students to conduct research, teach and learn with the tools and protocols of the digital humanities.

USC is committed to investing at least $1 billion in support of digital knowledge and informatics over the next 10 years.

“Our century is dominated by the quantity and influence of information and data. USC is already a world leader in digital media and informatics,” said Elizabeth Garrett, the university’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “This prestigious award will help to enhance our teaching and scholarship through new ways to explore and communicate.”

Deans welcome the training

The university can call upon unique strengths, such as the USC Digital Repository, which includes more than 52,000 digitized, indexed and fully searchable testimonials from the USC Shoah Foundation in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and the expertise and equipment of the nation’s top cinema school, particularly its Media Arts + Practice doctoral program.

“As a huge proponent of interdisciplinary study and training, I am excited to help USC emerge as a leading institution connecting technology, hard data and the humanities,” said Steve A. Kay, dean of USC Dornsife. “I believe that the programs established through this grant will offer our stellar scholars the tools they will need to effect lasting change in their fields and in society.”

Elizabeth M. Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, added: “The School of Cinematic Arts is focused on the future of media, and all seven of our divisions are deeply immersed in digital technologies. We are proud that this grant recognizes and provides support for the cutting-edge scholarship and media creation being done at our school, particularly for the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, which benefits students across the entire university.”

In an arrangement intended to promote the spread of digital scholarship, all researchers supported by the Mellon grant will agree to make their digital sources available to the scholarly community through the Digital Repository.

The award also reflects the quality of humanities faculty in USC Dornsife and critical studies faculty in the School of Cinematic Arts, as well as the cross-disciplinary research potential at the many centers and institutes that attract scholars from around the university, according to Peter Mancall, the grant’s principal investigator and vice dean for the humanities at USC Dornsife.

Mancall, Mellon Professor of the Humanities and Linda and Harlan Martens Director of the Early Modern Studies Institute, underlined the newness of the field when he listed possible meanings of “digital humanities.”

A researcher who digitally analyzes early American books for the use of terms such as “slavery” or “liberty” is practicing digital humanities scholarship, but so is a historian of medicine who traces the evolution of past attempts to control epidemics, or an author who incorporates moving image sources such as videos or games into a manuscript, or a digital media scholar whose entire research is expressed as a game.

“We’re at a really early phase. The digital humanities can embrace new ways of doing research,” Mancall said. “Part of doing this project will be to figure out what those ways actually are.”

Workshops, fellowships, coursework

The five-year grant will support four postdoctoral researchers and 10 PhD students on two-year fellowships, with another four postdocs to be funded by the university.

The grant includes funds for digitization and storage of research materials, best practices workshops, undergraduate summer fellowships and coursework toward a digital humanities certificate through the Institute for Multimedia Literacy (IML) at the School of Cinematic Arts.

IML has been educating USC students in multimedia methods for 15 years, and its nationally recognized faculty includes digital pioneers such as the first PhD recipient to submit a digitally native thesis. The institute was founded in conversation with filmmaker George Lucas.

The grant also provides for annual symposia to share best practices in the digital humanities, initially hosted by USC and subsequently rotating among other leading universities in digital scholarship.

USC Dornsife, the School of Cinematic Arts and University Libraries are partners in the grant.

Digital humanities research and education at USC are part of a unversity-wide initiative of $1 billion over 10 years toward gathering, interpreting and applying digital data on a massive scale.

An international leader in fields from artificial intelligence to game design, with the largest computer science research program among American universities, USC is advancing knowledge in the development of virtual humans for therapy, entertainment or historic preservation; the simulation and modeling of earthquakes and other complex systems; brain mapping; archiving, indexing and analysis of visual material; visual storytelling and data visualization; and in creating advanced online platforms for distance education and professional development.

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