$5M Combined Mellon and UNC Initiative Builds on Digital Innovation Lab

July 9, 2012

Drs. Allen and MarcianoCatalyzed by a $1.39 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative (CDHI) represents a major university-wide commitment to the digital humanities, underwritten by the Office of the Provost, College of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, Information Technology Services and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities.

Its goal over the next five years is the development and testing of an adaptable and sustainable model of transformative academic practice that embraces faculty research, graduate and post-doctoral training, undergraduate learning, and engaged scholarship in the humanities. The CDHI will also bring the humanities into the “big data” conversation going on across our own campus as well as among other leading research universities, federal agencies, and foundations.  It is essential that humanities questions and concerns—about knowledge, meaning, value, and representation—be reflected in rapidly unfolding efforts to organize research, graduate training, and general education in relation to the data and information landscape of the 21st century.

The new initiative will build on the work of the Digital Innovation Lab, co-directed by Robert Allen, James Logan Godfrey Professor of American Studies, and Richard Marciano, professor in the School of Information and Library Science. The lab was launched last summer in the College of Arts and Sciences and is affiliated with the college’s American studies department. Marciano will head the initiative’s cyberinfrastructure taskforce. The Lab includes SILS graduate students, Pam Lach, lab manager; Bryan Gaston, lab associate; Stephanie Barnwell; and doctoral student and SILS research associate Chien-Yi Hou, technical lead.  

Digital humanities is an area of research, teaching and knowledge creation at the intersection of computing and humanities. It is interdisciplinary and embraces a variety of topics, ranging from curating online collections to mining information from large data sets.

The grant will help UNC create the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative, a $5 million effort that will explore the application of cutting-edge digital technologies to humanities research, teaching, graduate training and public engagement.

Among other things, the new Mellon grant will help support the following in digital humanities:

  • Targeted hiring of three tenure-track faculty members;
  • Joint faculty fellowships with the Digital Innovation Lab and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities;
  • Graduate and postdoctoral fellowships;
  • Grants for developing new courses;
  • Workshops for faculty and graduate students;
  • A graduate certificate for Ph.D. students.; and
  • Exploration of an undergraduate minor in data studies.

“Digital humanities is not just about individual scholars using computers in their research,” Allen said. “It represents a potentially transformative change across all the ways we work as academics: from the questions we ask, to the kinds of people we work with; from the ways we communicate knowledge to our peers and our students, to the ways we relate to the world beyond the University.”

UNC’s 2011 Academic Plan calls for a renewed investment in both interdisciplinary research and engaged scholarship that benefits the public good. The Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative also supports the Innovate@Carolina Roadmap, UNC’s plan to help Carolina become a world leader in launching University-born ideas for the good of society.

For a story on the creation of the Digital Innovation Lab, and examples of ongoing projects, visit http://go.unc.edu/Fw9c4 and http://digitalinnovation.unc.edu/. “Going to the Show,” a digital humanities collaboration between Allen and UNC’s Wilson Library, was awarded the 2011 American Historical Association’s Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History.

Photo of Drs. Allen and Marciano courtesy of Dan Sears, UNC at Chapel Hill photographer.


The LifeTime Library supports the Innovate@Carolina Roadmap, UNC’s plan to help Carolina become a world leader in launching university-born ideas for the good of society.