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Mellon Foundation Awards $800,000 to Fund Research on Work and the Humanities

On behalf of the University of California Humanities Network, UC Irvine has received a grant of $800,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a three-year research program to explore and assess the critical historical and contemporary transformations in the meaning and experience of work. The project will also address how humanities practitioners can prepare students for the work that awaits them in 21st-century global society.

The grant will underwrite an ambitious UC-wide program of research activities that will be administered by the UC Humanities Research Institute. The programs will include competitively selected multi-campus working groups, graduate seminars, webinars and conferences, a summer institute and a residential research group at UCHRI. Each will bring together a diverse array of faculty and graduate students across the UC system to examine specific issues around the humanities and changing conceptions of work.

“The nature and conditions of work have shifted profoundly over the past few decades as a result of global changes in technological, economic, and cultural conditions,” remarked UCHRI director David Theo Goldberg. “We are witnessing the impacts of these changes playing out in the political arena both in the US and more broadly.  The work supported by this grant couldn’t be more timely. It will help us to map and understand these changes and their impacts on human life, and to support more productive policy responses.”

The grant will also support a series of nine three-day workshops that partner UC faculty with international researchers to explore comparative and global implications of the changing world of work. Potential partners include universities and humanities centers in South Africa, Senegal, Spain, China, Portugal, Lebanon, and Mexico.

“These changes in how and where we work are globally rooted,” Goldberg added, “so it is crucial to comprehend these broad connections and their impacts on local work environments.”

Developed by Goldberg in collaboration with David Marshall, dean of Humanities and the Arts at UC Santa Barbara and chair of the UC Humanities Network Advisory Committee, and Carolyn de la Peña, American studies professor and director of the UC Davis Humanities Institute, the grant is the first externally-funded undertaking of the UC Humanities Network, an initiative funded by the Office of the President to promote excellence in humanities research across the UC system and encourage collaborations that connect UCHRI and the ten campus-based humanities centers.
“These funds come at precisely the right moment,” said de la Peña, who also chairs the UC Consortium of Humanities Centers.  “Working together across our campuses, humanities scholars will be able to explore what work is in the twenty-first century, and how our students develop the salient skills to question it, improve it, and contribute to it.  At the same time, we’ll also shine a light on our own practice as humanists and ask how we work, what constraints shape our labor, and how we might work more effectively within and beyond the university in the future.”

The issues addressed by this research program are posed at a crucial time for higher education, and in the face of intensifying structural pressure on the humanities. Paradoxically, at a time when the humanities has become increasingly devalued, the set of skills it represents is crucially important to economic capacity, political judgment, and civic life.

“This important project demonstrates the relevance of humanities research in the 21st-century, at a time in which we need to look both forward and back to understand the transformations that are underway,” said David Marshall. “It also shows the significance of humanities teaching for students who will need historical understanding, cultural competency, communication and linguistic skills, and critical thinking as they enter a global marketplace and become citizens in a global society. We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for recognizing the value of the work of the humanities.”

One of the leading funders of humanities research in the nation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation makes grants principally in five areas – higher education and scholarship, libraries and scholarly communications, conservation and the environment, museums and art conservation, and performing arts.

The University of California Humanities Research Institute is a multicampus research unit of the UC Office of the President, established by UC President David Gardner in 1987 to promote collaborative work and excellence in humanities research among all ten campuses in the UC system.

The UC Humanities Network, funded by a five-year grant from the UC Office of Research and Graduate Studies in 2009, incorporates and expands the original 1987 Humanities Initiative, linking together the UC President’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities, a multi-tiered program of research fellowships for faculty and graduate students; the UC Consortium of Humanities Centers, a system-wide network of campus-based humanities centers; and the nationally renowned UCHRI.

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