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2014–2015 Director’s Letter


What exactly does a humanities institute do?


That is a question I am often asked by friends, family and folks less familiar with the goings-on at a research university. I am pleased to present this 2014-2015 annual report in answer to this question. As you will see, the UC Davis Humanities Institute did a whole lot in the last year to support the research and creative work of our faculty and students in the humanities and social sciences. We offered them grants and fellowships so that they can get their own projects done; we hosted workshops, seminars and retreats to connect them with others and offer them advice on writing successful grants or book proposals; we sponsored research collaborations bringing teams of scholars together to work on hot topics such as the environment, digital cultures and social justice; and we publicized the significant research coming out of the College of Letters and Science with feature stories and a weekly newsletter. What is especially gratifying is to see the impact of the work that we do as our faculty publish award-winning books, receive prestigious fellowships and grants, and graduate students land great jobs.


I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a number of new initiatives at the institute. Thanks to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s renewal of our Mellon Research Initiatives in the Humanities program, we ran a competition in fall 2014 and selected two new groups to join our continuing collaborations on Social Justice and Digital Cultures. They are an interdisciplinary group investigating Border Studies and another working on Indian Ocean Worlds. We are proud to work with these talented faculty and graduate students who are advancing the scope of the humanities with new and exciting forms of collaboration.


This year, our Faculty Research Seminar took a new direction from years past. Instead of pursuing a theme, we awarded one-quarter sabbaticals to six assistant and associate profes- sors who needed the time to make progress on book projects. The seminar met weekly at the institute over lunch and the participants presented book proposals for discussion by the group. I served as informal seminar leader, but I also benefited by presenting a piece of my own research. In addition to the


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intensive feedback that each seminar member received, a strong feeling of cohort across the disciplines developed in the group. Indeed, it is one of the institute’s most important missions to create these bridges between departments as a way of giving the humanities at UC Davis a truly collective identity.


As Russell Berman, the Walter A. Hass Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University and a 2014-2015 Chancellor’s Colloquium Distinguished Speaker, encouraged us to rethink the Ph.D. in the humanities when he visited UC Davis last fall, we continued to refine the professional and career mentoring we offered under the heading of our PhD Unlimited program; we sponsored workshops on creating a digital identity, panels of Ph.D. alumni with careers outside the academy, and a faculty mentoring event. Our PhD Unlimited program gave us the groundwork and credentials we needed to develop a proposal for a Public Scholars Program to be launched in fall 2015. With the support of a $400,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, we will match graduate students with faculty mentors who are involved in some form of community-engaged research. The students will take a seminar in the spring on public humanities and community engage- ment and will then work in an internship in the community (government, non-profit, etc.). The goal of the program is to prepare students for possible careers outside the academy that are nevertheless related to research on the inside. The program will also create bridges between UC Davis and a wide variety of institutions in the community as well as create a training model for other universities across California and beyond.


All of this new activity comes in addition to our very full plate of core programs, such as the Chancellor’s Colloquium, graduate summer fellowships, a series of “Book Chats” featuring faculty authors, and much, much more that you can read about in the pages to follow.


Happy reading!


David Biale Director, UC Davis Humanities Institute


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