Thursday, July 24, 2014

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Rare Book School Receives Mellon Foundation Grant to Expand Fellowship Program

Rare Book School at the University of Virginia has received a second grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to expand the reach of an ambitious fellowship program that is reinvigorating bibliographical studies within the humanities.

The $783,000 grant, announced earlier this month, will fund 20 additional three-year fellowships in the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in Critical Bibliography program for doctoral candidates, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty seeking advanced training in the study of rare books, manuscripts and other material texts.

Aiming to encourage humanities scholars to look at books as physical artifacts worthy of study beyond the text on their pages, the program was launched last academic year with an $896,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation.

During their three-year fellowship tenure, fellows receive intensive classroom training in weeklong seminars held annually at Rare Book School, located within U.Va.’s Alderman Library and at other major special collections libraries nationwide. In addition, the program’s fellows receive travel and research stipends, as well as training opportunities in New York, Philadelphia and other cities with prized collections.

“I am grateful to the foundation for its generous support of our Mellon Fellowship program, which seeks to help early-career humanities scholars incorporate bibliographical and book-historical methods into their research and training,” Michael Suarez, Rare Book School director, said. “We intend to build on the successes of the first phase of our Mellon Fellowship program by encouraging a more extensive collaborative dialogue among our fellows, who will continue to represent a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from musicology and the digital humanities to art history and American studies.”

While bibliographical training was a required element of elite graduate programs in English literature and other humanities disciplines five decades ago, that priority has long since faded at U.S. universities. The Mellon program, however, offers contemporary humanities researchers the analytical tools to evaluate the depth of scholarly information to be mined from a book or manuscript’s physical form. Whether it’s understanding the materials and methods that went into a book’s production or gaining additional insight into a book’s intended audience or cultural significance from the designs stamped on its binding, a new generation of scholars is recognizing the value of Rare Book School’s curriculum.

Scholars, curators and experts from around the world attend Rare Book School seminars as instructors and students, and fellows receive expert instruction on how to interpret the material forms of textual artifacts, from medieval manuscripts and early American hand-press books to contemporary digital materials. During these 30-hour courses, fellows are offered the  opportunity to handle, analyze and interpret materials from Rare Book School’s collection of approximately 80,000 rare books, manuscripts and related artifacts, as well as resources from U.Va.’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, the Library of Congress and other major special collections in the United States.

Hannah Marcus, a doctoral candidate in history at Stanford University, is a member of the Rare Book School Mellon Fellows program’s inaugural cohort. She said the collaborative training within the fellowship seminar she attended last summer has aided her continued research on early modern Europe and the history of science and the ways in which readers and Roman Catholic authorities in 16th- and 17th-century Italy understood the printed book as an intellectual threat as well as a physical object that could be manipulated and regulated.

“The RBS Mellon Fellowship is special because it’s trying to train a community, not an individual,” Marcus said in an email interview from Rome. “My own research is benefitting from what have turned into nearly weekly conversations with interdisciplinary scholars with diverse interests whom I’ve met through the program. My RBS courses have given me a deep understanding of how books are and were made. This informs my daily research on censorship since I’m often considering how books were destroyed. Understanding format, binding and printing – bibliography in a word – helps me to systematically notice and understand when books have been altered by censors.

“I so look forward to summer in Charlottesville as a week of rewarding intellectual interactions and camaraderie with a talented group of book professionals and enthusiasts.”

The application deadline for the second cohort of 20 three-year fellowships within the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Critical Bibliography is Dec. 2. More information on the program and its application process can be found here.

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