Mellon Foundation to Support Digital Humanities Project at U.Va.

November 13, 2006
Nov. 13, 2006 -- With a $798,000 gift to the University of Virginia, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation of New York City has extended its support for digital scholarship in the humanities. The gift will fund “Interpretive Tools for Online Humanities,” a continuation of the internationally recognized work of Jerome McGann, University Professor and John Stewart Bryan Professor of English at U.Va.

“With this gift, the University will continue to harness digital technology to advance innovative scholarship in the humanities,” said University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III. “We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its ongoing support of Jerry McGann's digital projects and for its help in revolutionizing the way our scholars organize and disseminate their work.”

An authority on 19th- and 20th-century literature and culture and a pioneer in the field of digital humanities, McGann aims to develop new technological tools for interpreting and analyzing works of art and literature. Initially funded by a Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award in 2003, his scholarship now resides with a new professional organization, the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship, or NINES.

The group was founded to ensure that new digital tools meet the highest standards set by paper-based scholarship and to promote the breakthroughs in scholarship and teaching long promised by online resources. These tools include “Ivanhoe,” a collaborative online game-space for investigating and interpreting cultural works; “Juxta,” a cross-platform sequencing and analysis tool; and “Collex,” a mechanism for collecting and repurposing online materials in illustrated, interlinked essays or exhibits. 

McGann has been instrumental in helping fellow scholars make the transition from print to online vehicles for presenting their work. As a founding member of the University’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, he developed the highly influential “Complete Writings and Pictures of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Hypermedia Research Archive.” In addition, he collaborated with Johanna Drucker, the Robertson Professor of Media Studies at U.Va., to organize Speclab, a group dedicated to creating new digital tools for humanists.

“The tools we are developing are designed for use by humanities scholars anywhere, working singly or in groups, and they are freely available,” said McGann.  “At the end of the project, we plan to have the software developed to the point that it can be reliably accessed and used by scholars and extended to the open-source community.” 

With the Mellon Foundation award, McGann expects to complete the project by May 2008. One of the foundation’s goals is to help institutions use technology to disseminate their scholarly content more broadly. Since 2000, the foundation has supported efforts by IATH, the University of Virginia Press and the U.Va. Library System to digitize primary-source materials and make them widely available to scholars.