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Humanities Center Gets Mellon Grant

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January 10, 2005

Northwestern University's Alice Berline Kaplan Center for the Humanities has been awarded a $300,000 renewal grant from The Andrew Mellon Foundation.

In addition to supporting many of the existing events and activities of the Kaplan Center for the Humanities, a portion of the Mellon grant will fund two to three national humanities conferences over the next three years, according to Kaplan Center director Robert Gooding-Williams.

"I cannot stress enough the importance of having our own money for this kind of programming," said Gooding-Williams, who also is professor of philosophy. "Although the center has convened some excellent conferences - for example, last year's conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of W.E.B. Du Bois's "The Souls of Black Folk" -- a set-aside sum dedicated for conferences and for use at the discretion of the center's humanities council will allow for long-term conference planning hitherto impossible."

The grant reinforces the mission of the Kaplan Center to enhance the visibility of the humanities and humanities research at Northwestern, and to bring people with mutual interests from different disciplines into conversation through the center's faculty workshops.

The operative word describing the Kaplan Center faculty workshops is "interdisciplinarity." "Our workshops permit faculty and graduate students in, say, history to come into conversation with colleagues in sociology, philosophy, literature and other fields to discuss a common set of themes.

"The upshot is that everyone develops an enhanced, more nuanced and more complicated perspective on the subjects he or she is interested in," says Gooding-Williams. He emphasized that the workshops also are intended to foster the development of new undergraduate curricular possibilities, including freshman and advanced seminars.

Two new faculty workshops - on the new urban studies and on the study of the imagination -- will be established. Ongoing workshops include the classical traditions initiative, the critical race studies workshop and the claims of theories workshops.

The center will continue to play a leading role in helping graduate students in the humanities communicate their dissertation projects outside of their own disciplines with the annual Humanities Dissertation Forum. "Dissertations in the humanities can be abstract in nature, and students sometimes succumb to the lure of disciplinary jargon," says Gooding-Williams.

The forum gives students an opportunity to present brief, comprehensible abstracts to and answer questions from an interdisciplinary audience.

Support for graduate students also includes research grants that allow students to work on their dissertations for one quarter without other demands on their time such as teaching. The Mellon grant also enables the Kaplan Center to offer travel grants for students whose dissertation research demands archival or on-site research.