Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The value of NEH and Mellon support for DH scholarship, activities

Excerpt of visualization from Jay Z Dataset project

By Kenton Rambsy and Howard Rambsy II

Recent announcements about proposed substantial cuts to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) from the Federal Budget led us to consider how that will affect our on-going work, which is situated between African American literary studies and digital humanities.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well as African American literature and Black Studies programs have faced tremendous resource and funding struggles. That is why the support provided by NEH and the Andrew Mellon Foundation is especially vital for a wide range of projects concerning African American culture, history, and education.

Since 2014, the two of us have participated in summer institutes and symposiums backed by funding from those agencies. Essentially, you can classify the types of programs we have participated in into two categories:
1. Institutes where we have introduced faculty members to digital tools and methodologies that they can use in classes they teach
2. Institutes where we present our on-going research using digital tools
Most often, our DH presentations have been for audiences at HBCUs. In July 2014, Professors Corrie Claiborne and Sam Livingston invited us to participate in the Mellon funded “Mapping the Future by Mining the Past” at Morehouse College. In June 2015, Professor Candice Love Jackson invited us to serve as faculty facilitators at the “Mellon Faculty and Development in the Digital Humanities Educational Te(a)chnology Masterclass” at Tougaloo College. The programs at Morehouse and Tougaloo were funded by the Mellon Foundation.

Last summer, in June 2016, we participated in the NEH funded “Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative in Literature, Language, and Criticism” at Howard University. (Kenton served as a co-director of the institute with Dana Williams).

The institutes and programs at Howard University, Morehouse, and Tougaloo focused on pedagogical issues. We discussed with attendees how they might integrate text-mining software into their teaching and research. We presented them with examples by focusing on our efforts to consistently blog about our findings in small projects on figures like Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Edward P. Jones.

Recently, Matt Wilkens at Notre Dame invited us to participate in the NEH funded Cultural Analytics symposium—a two-day gathering of scholars in multiple areas. We shared ideas concerning our on-going projects teaching major authors courses on Jay Z and developing a Jay Z dataset.

The Andrew Mellon Foundation and NEH have been instrumental in our development as DH scholars. The agencies enabled us to strengthen our projects in DH and work with a wide range of scholars at multiple kinds of institutions. The potential elimination of NEH funding means that scholars like us will have far fewer opportunities.

NEA and presses that publish African American poets 
What NEA has meant to African American poets 
Roundup of coverage concerning potential arts and humanities budget cuts  

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