Mellon grant opens doors for humanities center

Becky Bowman

Research grants for six graduate students, “digital boot camp” and a talk by director Ang Lee are among the potential pay-offs from a $280,000 grant the Alice Berline Kaplan Center for the Humanities received in December.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation donated the money, one of the center’s largest grants since its creation in 1992, said Sarah Fodor, associate director of the foundation relations office.

The grants to graduate students would take the place of stipends paid to teaching assistants so students can take trips to archive centers, said Weinberg Prof. Helmut Muller-Sievers, also the center’s director. Grants allow graduate students time to focus on research instead of on teaching, he said.

“If their dissertation is on Paris, they could take a trip to Paris,” Muller-Sievers said.

Jarod Roll, a teaching assistant in the history department, said a break from teaching would allow him to research without squeezing his archive trips into weekends.

“There’s no way to adequately study history without spending a lot of time in the archives,” said Roll, who concentrates on American history. “A lot of things are available on the interlibrary loan, but the private resources often are not on microfilm or lent by institutions.”

Benefits for students also include forums for practicing how to present dissertations in front of an audience of faculty and students.

The grant also allows the center to consider some long-standing goals, Muller-Sievers said.

“It frees us up to consider additional initiatives,” he said. “We want to now find the resources to invite well-known humanists to come here for a few days,” he said.

The center would like to invite writer Tom Wolfe, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Director Daniel Barenboim or “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” director Ang Lee to campus, Muller-Sievers said.

For faculty, the Mellon grant will help create four two-year workshops with themes on classical traditions, humanities theory, film and race studies. Faculty members leading the workshops will receive a half-quarter of paid leave during the two years of work. The workshops will include guest speakers and conferences, Muller-Sievers said.

Other plans include a digital boot camp, where faculty and students will learn how to author Web sites and build their own digital resources. The workshop will be especially important for faculty because many graduate students know more about digital media than the graduate faculty, Muller-Sievers said.