Clark Atlanta University Receives Mellon Foundation Grant to Develop Digital Humanities Infrastructure
ATLANTA, GA (December 5, 2022) – Clark Atlanta University (CAU) was recently awarded $578,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to use over three years to develop a digital humanities infrastructure at the college. This year, CAU conducted a Workshop Series and Summer Institute aimed at helping faculty and scholars in graduate school from historically black colleges, and universities think deeply about digital humanities and how to build this type of program at their respective institutions.
Digital Humanities (DH) is an interdisciplinary field that includes various topics in Humanistic research while incorporating computational/digital tools and quantitative methodologies. This broad range of tools can include mapping neighborhoods, mining texts, digital storytelling, and more. The interdisciplinary collaborative approach to research has become a hallmark of digital humanities as
DH projects often require a team of experts ranging from city planners and computer scientists to historians and visual artists.
Over a century ago, one of Clark Atlanta University’s parent institutions, Atlanta University, was a trailblazer in collaborative approaches to research that combined various academic disciplines with data visualization. In 1900, renowned Atlanta University sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois conducted a comprehensive study of the Black experience through imagery that ranged from local Georgia population diagrams to graphs depicting Black businessmen in the United States to bar charts examining African American religious affiliations.
“We are thankful to the Mellon Foundation for this incredible gift that furthers our ability to study our past and understand how the continuum of history informs our present and shapes our future,” said Dr. George T. French, president of Clark Atlanta University. “Our university’s mission is to uplift lives. We enjoy fuller, more purposeful lives when we understand the richness of our past and can pass that knowledge on to our children, who will be made stronger and more resilient for it. This is a gift for them as much as for us.”
Although Digital Humanities is a relatively new field on the academic landscape, nearly a century ago, one of Clark Atlanta University’s parent institutions - Atlanta University - was trailblazing a course through this discipline that applies computational tools and methods to traditional humanities disciplines such as literature, history, and philosophy. Digital Humanities is often described as a field that symbolically and tangibly connects the past, present, and future.
“We are building on the legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, who created a series of data portraits while at Atlanta University,” said Dr. Rico D. Chapman, associate dean of CAU’s School of Arts & Sciences and Director of the Humanities Ph.D. Program. “This work, completed more than one hundred years ago, is foundational to current practices in digital humanities, where data visualization is critical in making research findings accessible to a broader audience.”
According to Chapman, principal investigator of the project, the programming - presented by CAU’s Center for Africana Digital Humanities - was very successful. This perspective was echoed by most participants who, when surveyed, said they left the experience with the tools and knowledge to build a digital humanities program at their respective colleges.
In April, selected Atlanta University Consortium Center professors and CAU doctoral students participated in a three-day faculty development workshop that introduced various computational tools and concepts to use in the classroom or with research projects. Session titles ranged from “3D Documentation of Historic Sites” to “Objects to Liberation Technologies: Digital Humanities and the Afro-future.”
In June, a weeklong Summer Institute focused on training participants to understand digital humanities content in the recovery, honoring, preservation, and storytelling of the Black experience. The institute drew selected HBCU faculty members nationwide and CAU doctoral students. A $100,000 gift from Microsoft helped fund the Summer Institute as well.
One featured session focused on the work of the recently launched Ida B. Wells JUST Data Lab at Princeton University. Led by renowned professor Dr. Ruha Benjamin, the goal of the lab is “rethinking and retooling data for justice” by bringing together students, educators, activists, and artists to develop a critical and creative approach to data conception, production, and circulation.
According to Chapman - founding director of the Center for Africana Digital Humanities at CAU - the University will continue to use the funds to:
- Organize faculty development workshops that introduce various computational tools and concepts that can be used in the classroom or included in collaborative research projects.
- Conduct summer institutes focused on the context necessary to understand digital humanities and its relationship to the recovery, honoring, preservation, and storytelling of the black experience.
In the future, Clark Atlanta University will host an interdisciplinary HBCU Africana Digital Humanities conference open to all scholars from HBCUs. The gathering will explore history, literature, sociology, politics, and the arts using technology as a means of recovery, healing, and knowledge production.