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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 22, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 18
New Support for Humanities Grad Programs

Mellon endowment helps fill a critical need for school

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

In a strong show of support for graduate humanities programs at Johns Hopkins, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has pledged more than $4 million to the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences in the form of two separate grants for this field of study.

A grant of just over $1 million from the foundation acts as a renewal of the existing Mellon postdoctoral fellowship program in the humanities that will be refocused and restructured around the burgeoning field of Diaspora studies.

The Mellon Foundation has also created a $3 million endowment fund for the support of graduate work in the humanities at Johns Hopkins. The money will initially be used to provide grants for research trips, support language training and augment current stipend levels for graduate students, which are currently significantly lower than at peer institutions.

Adam Falk, dean of the Krieger School, said that the endowment fund helps fill a critical need and sends a strong message.

"It's always gratifying to receive support for work that is at the heart of the school's mission," Falk said. "We have sought for years to enhance the support of our graduate students and the recruitment of the very best grad students in the humanities. Our new partnership with the Mellon Foundation will help enormously in that regard, and we are grateful for the confidence that the foundation has showed."

Gabrielle Spiegel, professor and chair of the History Department, who wrote both Mellon grant proposals, echoed Falk's sentiments.

"This is a wonderful confirmation from Mellon of their recognition of our excellence in graduate humanities programs," Spiegel said. "They are a wonderful organization, and they listen to the changing needs of institutions. There is growing competition for graduate recruitment, and this money will help us deal with this changing environment."

In reference to the fellowship program renewal, Falk said that very few foundations support the humanities and postdoctoral studies at this level, which is why the Mellon gift is so important.

"This money will support exciting interdisciplinary work that is critical for the development of new programs, such as our Center for Africana Studies," Falk said.

The term Diaspora derives from the Greek word diaspeirein, which means to scatter or disperse and today commonly refers to the study of dispersed ethnic populations, whether due to forced resettlement, expulsion, war, racism or other means.

The five-year fellowship program, which starts in 2009, is designed to explore, test and refine the concept of Diaspora in contemporary usage. The university will later this year begin to solicit applications for postdoctoral fellows whose work addresses the conceptual complexity of the term and seeks to advance understanding of the phenomenon. The program expects to appoint 12 Mellon fellows, with three appointments to be made annually over four years. Each appointment will be for two years. The fifth year of the program represents the final year of the last class.

The grant from the Mellon Foundation will go toward stipends, travel and a monthly seminar in which the fellows can present their work and explore its potential contribution to continual questioning and refining of the concept of Diaspora.

The program will build on the work of Krieger School's Center for Africana Studies, a major subfield of which is the study of African Diaspora, but will also apply to Diaspora studies of many other ethnic groups, such as Asians, Armenians, Jews and Southeast Asians, and even classical Diasporas as originally defined in the Greek world.

Spiegel said that the existing postdoctoral fellowship program has been incredibly successful, and that the university each year has received a high number of applications. Last year, there were 846 for the three spots. "Clearly, the Mellon Foundation has been very pleased with the success of the program, too," Spiegel said. "The fellowships have helped get jobs for those in the program, many of the fellows' dissertations have been revised as books and accepted for publication, and the fellows have made a wonderful contribution to teaching here. It's been a great experience and done everything that we and Mellon had hoped for the program."


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