The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the University of Virginia $3.47 million to launch a major humanities initiative dedicated to the study of the Global South.
The College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences will match the grant, making the initial five-year investment to launch the initiative about $7 million. The funding will go toward the creation of new courses and research focused on the connected histories and cultures of Africa, Latin America, South and East Asia and other world regions.
For scholars, the American South, the border zones of Latino/Latina study and the immigrant communities of European nations and cities are as much a part of the Global South as Nigeria or Argentina. Within the humanities, this area of scholarship studies connections across these regions as it identifies cultural spaces patterned and shaped by global histories of race, religion, empire and diaspora.
“The Mellon grant will allow the College to continue to open new areas of interdisciplinary inquiry and to expand research and teaching initiatives,” Arts & Sciences Dean Ian Baucom said. “Studying the humanities has never been more essential to understanding the world our students will inhabit. An integrated focus on the Global South is one of the ways we can prepare students to succeed in a shared world of varied cultural perspectives and realities and to prepare them for lives of engaged cosmopolitan citizenship.”
The grant comes at a pivotal time for the College, which is undertaking a major revision of its undergraduate curriculum that aims to build on the traditions and strengths of its commitment to a liberal arts education. The initiative will support the creation of new courses and programs of study in the Global South to extend exchanges between scholars working in history, literature, philosophy and other long-standing humanities disciplines and faculty working in emerging fields such as the medical and environmental humanities. At the same time, the Global South initiative aims to connect faculty and programs from across the University, including colleagues in the School of Architecture working on development and the built environment in sub-Saharan Africa and South America, to colleagues in the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing devoted to global public health and education initiatives in various parts of the Southern Hemisphere.
As part of the new effort, the College will hire a cluster of 10 tenure-track faculty members by 2020.
“We are looking to hire faculty who are experts in their fields and who are able to relate to scholars beyond their disciplines,” said Francesca Fiorani, associate dean for the arts and humanities and professor of art history, who oversaw the development of the grant application.
As an example, she offered the medical humanities. “It is a huge, emerging field where scholars in the humanities are looking at ways to work in medicine in different parts of the world,” Fiorani said. “Studies in medical humanities have included biomedical ethics and narrative medicine and have influenced new clinical practices, including the contributions of anthropology to understanding how culture shapes experiences of trauma and post-traumatic stress.”
A new Mellon Humanities Fellows program convened by the College’s Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures will enable 50 U.Va. faculty and graduate students to conduct research and design new courses around their work. The funding also will enable the Institute to launch a series of Humanities Laboratories focused on the Global South that will draw in faculty, graduate and undergraduate students to work on collaborative, team-based research projects.
Fiorani and a faculty committee worked with the Mellon Foundation for several months to refine the proposal.
“One part that the committee really liked was the connection with the undergraduate curriculum reform process and the new vision the College is moving toward,” Fiorani said. “This innovative work will change the way we teach undergraduate students.”