Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative expanded with Mellon grant

Robert Allen (left) and Richard Marciano show a digital map of Charlotte 1911, one of the pilot projects of the Digital Innovation Lab. (photo by Dan Sears)

A $1.39 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will expand digital humanities in a transformative way at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including the hiring of new faculty and the support of graduate students in this emerging field.

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 leverages significant support from UNC in creating a $5 million effort called the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative, which will explore the application of cutting-edge digital technologies to humanities research, teaching, graduate training and public engagement.

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 infrastructure taskforce.

“The Mellon Foundation’s support enables UNC to stimulate innovative applications of digital technologies simultaneously at all levels of academic practice — from new models of research collaboration to new ways of engaging communities in North Carolina and across the nation as they pursue enduring questions in the humanities,” said William L. Andrews, the former senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities in the college, the E. Maynard Adams Professor of English and a co-principal investigator (PI) of the grant.

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 post-doctoral 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,” added Allen, the co-PI of the grant. “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 and “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.