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Honors and Awards


UMD Division of Research announced nine recipients of Coronavirus Research Seed Fund Awards, including two from ARHU.




Brooke Liu, Professor, Department of Communication
Universities’ Coronavirus Crisis Management: Challenges, Opportunities, and Initial Lessons Learned

As the coronavirus spread around the world, more than a thousand U.S. universities migrated instruction online. While we do not yet know the full impact of the pandemic, we know that the impact is immense. To meet the challenge of responding to the coronavirus, higher education leaders are rapidly innovating. These leaders would benefit from systematically learning how their peers are managing the pandemic. This project asks: How have U.S. higher education institutions planned for and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic? What challenges do they face, how have they overcome obstacles, and what lessons have they learned? This study answers these questions through longitudinal interviews with 40-50 higher education leaders who are part of their institutions’ crisis management teams. The study also conducts textual analysis of materials provided by these leaders and found online. Findings will inform institutions’ coronavirus responses while they continue to face this unprecedented crisis. Findings also can inform planning for future mega crises, which is especially important given the relative dearth of research on higher education crisis management.

Sun Young Lee, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication
How Companies Are Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic: Their Roles, Strategies, and Effectiveness in Promoting the Public Good

The purpose of the project is to examine how companies are responding to the pandemic as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities and the effects of their efforts at preventing, controlling, and responding to the outbreak for their stakeholders and for U.S. society at large. Study 1 will examine what kinds of efforts companies have made in response to the pandemic; then Study 2 will test the effectiveness of various types of company messages in promoting the public good.


Click here to read previous ARHU Faculty Spotlights.


By Sunil Iyengar, Arts Endowment Director of Research & Analysis

Kenneth Elpus was a newly minted doctorate from Northwestern University’s music education program when he learned of a research funding opportunity at the National Endowment for the Arts. Though a choral music educator, he had recently whetted his appetite for statistical analyses of large datasets. With music education professor Carlos Abril (now at University of Miami), he already had published a national demographic profile of high school music students.

“It caught on,” he noted, referring to the article, which appeared in May 2011 in the Journal of Research in Music Education. Subsequently, the “idea of figuring out who we serve and what they look like, in comparison to students who don’t pursue the arts, became this important cornerstone of the work that I do.” The preoccupation has led to Elpus serving as a principal investigator on six research grants from the Arts Endowment, and as a consultant on a seventh. It also drove him to pursue and win a $600,000 research grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences—one of only two awards that emerged from a rare call for proposals the department issued on the topic of “arts in education.”

Now an associate professor of music education at the University of Maryland, Elpus views his first Arts Endowment grant as a crucial milestone in his research career—and in his professional development. “I think when you first have a PhD, it’s very easy to not view yourself as an expert, even though you just finished your dissertation,” he said. “You still have a grad school or grad student mentality…. A lot is very new in your first year as an assistant professor.”

A mentor told Elpus about the research grant opportunity at the Arts Endowment. (Formerly known as “Research: Art Works,” the program is now called “Research Grants in the Arts.” Go here for the application guidelines. Applications are due March 30, 2020.) He said, “Applying for that research really helped me establish myself as a kind of authority” in using secondary datasets to inform the public about demographic characteristics and outcomes associated with arts education in the U.S.

For the 2011 journal article, Elpus and Abril had analyzed data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, a sample that permitted them to report, among other things, that one-fifth of the nation’s high school seniors were participating in school music ensembles, according to the most recent wave of the survey. By accessing data so sensitive it requires a research license, Elpus and Abril further concluded that children who were English language learners, Hispanics, or from families with low socioeconomic status, were “significantly underrepresented in music programs across the United States.” More recent analyses have echoed these findings.  

By the time the Arts Endowment funding opportunity rolled around, Elpus had set his sights on another large database—the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (or “Add Health”)—for what it could tell researchers about teenagers receiving an arts education. In particular, the database allowed Elpus to track developmental outcomes associated with those teens.

The Arts Endowment grant “literally enabled that project,” Elpus explained. It supported travel costs so he could perform his analysis at a “secured data enclave,” covered the cost of a data-use agreement, and “started connecting me with a community of likeminded researchers.”

Indeed, at an arts education research conference years later, Elpus found himself presenting results from one of his many Arts Endowment-funded studies. There he met an official with the International Baccalaureate (IB—formerly the International Baccalaureate Organization), and another sort of journey began. The organization, he recalled, was interested in “leveraging their own [administrative] data and doing a global survey of arts teachers in their schools, to help paint a picture of what the on-the-ground reality was,” in terms of how students are served by the arts through the IB diploma program.

This relationship sparked a successful proposal to the U.S. Department of Education in 2018. “Exploring Links Between Arts Education and Academic Outcomes in the International Baccalaureate,” as the study is called, is using IB data to compare the academic achievement of students who took arts courses with the outcomes of students who did not. (The IB database includes over 650,000 U.S. students who took any IB course from 2005 to 2015.)

Elpus and his team are also linking the IB data to National Student Clearinghouse data, to understand the post-secondary outcomes of both types of student. The researchers then will check their findings against Maryland’s state longitudinal data system. Because the IB program offers standardized curricula and testing, moreover, Elpus will have a wealth of data not only about what arts courses the students may have taken, but what they have learned. He will be presenting some of the study results at the International Society for Medical Education conference this August in Helsinki. In a nice bit of symmetry, he’ll be joined on stage by Carlos Abril, with whom he launched his career as an arts education researcher conversant with longitudinal databases.

Click here to browse papers and articles by Elpus that have resulted from Arts Endowment research grants to the University of Maryland and the National Association for Music Education.


In the late 19th century, a small African American community named Lakeland took root just beyond the grounds of what was then called the Maryland Agricultural College, now the University of Maryland. Lakeland thrived for decades, even in the face of historical forces like segregation, suburbanization, school desegregation and urban renewal, which plagued African American towns and cities across the nation throughout the 20th century. 

More than a decade ago, residents and friends of Lakeland began digitally collecting images, documents and oral histories in an effort to preserve their history. 

Now, a new grant will help Lakeland better document, preserve and share its cultural heritage. The $100,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant will make Lakeland’s growing collection of documents and images easier to navigate and maintain. It will allow core audiences like elderly, low vision and low hearing users from the community to tell their own stories.

The project also aims to be a model for other small community-led cultural heritage groups beyond Lakeland. Maxine Gross, the director of the Lakeland Community Heritage Project (LCHP), said the community’s history has national resonance. 

“From the inception of LCHP, community history has been interpreted in the context of broader American life,” said Gross, whose family has lived in Lakeland for at least five generations. “The goal isn’t just to make [the history] available to people associated with the community who already know the story, but also to the wider public.”

In a unique community-university partnership, University of Maryland faculty members and students have been involved in the archive since the beginning. The new grant project is an equitable partnership between LCHP, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland and the UMD Department of American Studies. 

Located between Indian Creek and Baltimore Avenue, Lakeland was settled in 1890. Originally intended as a white enclave, by 1903 it was a “flourishing African American community with two churches and a school,” according to LCHP. Seventy years later, large swaths of Lakeland — 104 of 150 households — were bulldozed as part of a federal urban renewal process, replaced with Lake Artemesia Natural Area, subsidized townhomes, high-density apartments and an elder housing facility. Simultaneous enactment of school desegregation laws intended to promote greater equity further changed the character of the community. Many College Park residents don’t know about Lakeland’s past.

In 2009, LCHP published the book “Lakeland: African Americans in College Park,” using its collection. Beginning that same year, Mary Corbin Sies, associate professor in the American Studies department, ran a series of community-directed class projects with LCHP to contribute to LCHP’s Lakeland Digital Archive. The archive now contains about 100 oral histories and thousands of photographs, newspaper clippings, deeds, maps and other materials. 

“Our first project documented the original settlement of Lakeland — where Lake Artemesia Park is located. We gathered photos and got Lakelanders to help us map who lived where,” Sies said. “The whole idea was to have a record that people’s children and grandchildren could access to understand the history of the community — to help people who grew up in the post urban renewal community understand what was there before and how Lakeland was a historically significant African American community in College Park.”

MITH joined the partnership in 2017 and currently holds a copy of the archive’s collection data in trust. The new archive will demonstrate “minimal computing,” a spare approach that uses simple, inexpensive hardware, doesn’t require a business-grade broadband connection and can even be accessed offline through a thumb drive. 

As part of the grant, MITH will also spearhead the creation of tutorials to teach other community organizations how to build and maintain similar projects using minimal computing.

Photo courtesy of Lakeland Community Heritage Project. Members of the Duchesses Social Club, 1942. Social clubs provided much of the organized entertainment in Lakeland in the 1940s and 1950s. These clubs met monthly at the homes of the members. Dinners were part of the gathering and provided the host an opportunity to showcase both their cooking ability and their tableware.


By Maryland Today Staff

The first book-length ethnographic study of French jazz in English. A deep dive into differing developing-world attitudes toward coal-fired power plants. A multi-method exploration of President Trump’s use of Twitter.

These are some of the projects supported by the first Independent Scholarship Research and Creativity Awards (ISRCA), a new seed grant program instituted by the University of Maryland’s Office of the Provost and Division of Research. It aims to bolster research and creative work in non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) areas, which broaden our understanding of the world and make it a richer place.

“The ISRCA award program provides vital support for humanistic scholarship and creative endeavors that, unfortunately, tend to be underfunded,” said Mary Ann Rankin, provost and vice president. “I am delighted to support a rich array of projects that explore critical aspects of our global culture: from 19th century Russian politics, to the heritage of climate change, to topics of exile and immigration, and beyond. This wonderful range of research activity is what makes the University of Maryland great."

The IRSCA awards of up to $10,000 for tenured or tenure-track faculty were announced last month, and cover methods and types of inquiry including historical, humanistic, interpretive or ethnographic approaches; explorations of aesthetic, ethical and/or cultural values and their roles in society; critical and rhetorical analyses; archival and/or field research; and development and/or production of creative works.

"This inaugural group of awards highlights the incredibly creative and diverse research that is happening across the campus,” said Laurie Locascio, vice president for research. “I look forward to seeing what comes of all the unique projects that this program will support. Maryland is really fortunate to be home to such creative scholars and researchers.

Thirteen researchers received ISRCA funding:

Shannon Carcelli, Department of Government and Politics
A book project, “Bureaucracy at the Border: The Fragmentation of Foreign Policy,” will argue that foreign policy decisions are made primarily not by state leaders, but by lower-level domestic bureaucrats, a phenomenon driven by pork-barrel spending.  

Sarah Croco, Department of Government and Politics
“The Twitter Presidency: Who Trump Talks About, How He Talks About Them, and Why It Matters” will explore how President Trump uses Twitter as a political tool through two methods: text analysis of his tweets to spot patterns in his mentioning of people, and nationally representative surveys to gauge Americans’ reaction.

Mikhail Dolbilov, Department of History
A book, “Conundrum of Loyalty:  Dynasty, Governance, and Political Allegiance in Imperial Russia, 1850-1900,” will use the concept of loyalty to study the political crisis tsarist Russia’s Romanov dynasty experienced at the moment of its transformation into a truly enormous, sprawling clan. It will offer a revisionist portrait of the Russian monarchy to help explain the persistence of Russian political authoritarianism in a more imaginative and nuanced fashion.

Claire Dunning, School of Public Policy
A paper, “Funding Black Power: Race, Philanthropy and the Politics of Social Impact,” will investigate how two groups of Bostonians—wealthy white suburbanites and black power activists—combined to launch a philanthropic experiment designed to address economic and racial inequality in the region.

Perla Guerrero, Department of American Studies
“Deportation’s Aftermath: Little LA and Making a Life in Exile” will explore what happens after deportation and return migration to Mexico in terms of inequality, criminalization and stigma, as returnees and deportees negotiate a process of criminalization that begins in the United States.

Jennifer Hadden, Department of Government and Politics
The project “Understanding the Social Reception of Proposed Energy Infrastructure in the Developing World” will examine the social reception to proposed energy infrastructure in the developing world, particularly focusing on coal. Public opposition to coal in some places is an important factor in project development, while in other places, support for coal is more widespread. The origins of such differing viewpoints, however, are not well understood.

Siv Lie, School of Music
A book project, “Django Generations: Ethnorace, Citizenship, and Jazz Manouche in France,” will look at how ideologies of ethnoracial and national belonging are generated through musical performance and discourse, applying humanistic and social scientific theory on the politics of race, expressive practices and cultural citizenship.

Ryan Long, School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
A book project, “Hannes Meyer, Post-Revolutionary Mexico, and the Poetics of Place and Displacement,” will focus on the Swiss-born Meyer (1889-1954), an architect and urban planner whose peripatetic career took him across Europe, from Switzerland to England, the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, the Soviet Union and Mexico.  

Lauren Porter, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice
A study, “Identifying Crime Hot Spots: A Multi-source Investigation of Crime Distribution in Peterborough, England,” will triangulate multiple data sources on crime distribution to better understand discrepancies in crime "hot spots,” and leverages unique sources of data, including police perceptions and self-reported offending, to examine crime concentration in Peterborough, England. 

Kathryn Lafrenz Samuels, Department of Anthropology
A book, “Anthropogenic: The Cultural Heritage of Climate Change,” will offer a “cultural heritage of climate change,” connecting the historical development of anthropogenesis with current responses to climate change, to privilege both past and present within the same analytical frame. 

Krishnan Vasudevan, Philip Merrill College of Journalism
A film, “One Driver, One Mic: How Immigrant Taxi Drivers Formed a Co-op to Take on Uber, Lyft and the Taxi Industry,” will depict an ethnographic study examining how a group of immigrant taxi drivers in Austin, Texas, formed their own cooperative after years of enduring abusive labor conditions by the taxi industry and being unheard by local government. 

Katherine Wasdin, Department of Classics
A book, “Fabricating Catullus: Catullus' Reception by Postmodern Women,” will study the reception of the Roman poet Catullus in the works of five contemporary female writers and artists: the poet Bernadette Mayer, the novelist Kathy Acker, the poet Anne Carson, and the artists Elaine Reichek and Sophie Calle. It will argue that Catullus is uniquely influential because he is an authoritative canonical model, yet one also deeply concerned with expressing female voices and formal experimentation. 

Edlie Wong, Department of English
“Empire and the Black Pacific: A Record of the Darker Races” will focus on the “Black Pacific” as a generative site for thinking about racial formations, post-national literary forms and cultural histories in the period spanning the end of Reconstruction to the onset of World War I. It will examine the formative yet largely underexamined role of black periodicals—specifically, the illustrated literary monthly—in the development of black American political life and literary practice. 



By Jessica Weiss ’05 

Cutting across more than 2,000 miles of prairie, wetland and other rural landscapes from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma, the Keystone Pipeline is a powerful symbol of human dependence on fossil fuels and its impact on people and habitats.

While much of the discussion and debate over the project have focused on the land it passes through, what about the area where the pipeline begins — the source of all that crude oil?

Shannon Collis, associate professor of art at the University of Maryland, is on a mission to tell the story of the lesser known Athabasca Oil Sands. That’s where millions of barrels of oil are dredged up each day from beneath thousands of miles of boreal forest.

“I want to capture the environmental effects of the industry … the abandoned open-pit mines, waste ponds and refineries,” said Collis, who teaches digital media and sound at UMD. “I want people to know what it’s like there.”

Collis, who is from Canada and now lives in Baltimore, was recently awarded a $10,000 Rubys Artist Grant through the Baltimore-based Robert W. Deutsch Foundation to travel to the oil sands in western Canada early next year to capture digital video, drone cinematography and sound recordings of the area. The resulting project, called “Strata,” will bring Canada’s immense oil fields to a gallery installation through immersive digital media. “Strata” is a reference to layers in the ground, or what happens when earth is being excavated.

“I create a space that envelopes people and surrounds them in sound and moving image,” she said. “So, you’re actually hearing this mechanical machinery, roaring off the landscape.”

Collis first learned of Canada’s massive oil sands 14 years ago. After graduating with an M.F.A. in printmaking from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, she moved to the boomtown of Fort McMurray to teach printmaking and art history at Keyano College. The area was cold and isolated but beautiful, and Collis loved to take in the natural landscape on long runs or drives. She often brought her film camera.

She found the oil sands on one of those adventures.

“I remember sitting on what felt like a crater in the earth, on the ledge, taking pictures and really thinking about how powerful it was to see the landscape altered in that way,” she said.

Alberta has the third-largest oil reserves in the world, after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Collis’ work has since evolved from film photography and printmaking into a more interdisciplinary, technology-driven form. Combining her two-dimensional work with a background in computer science, she now creates installations and interactive environments with audio and visuals that allow people to immerse themselves deeply.

Collis’ work has been exhibited widely across North America as well as in Europe, Asia, Australia and Brazil.

“Strata” comes after a similar project, called “Kiewa,” in which Collis documented the ways a hydroelectric project has transformed Australia’s Alpine Valley. For that project, Collis spent two weeks in residence at the Bogong Centre for Sound Culture in the Australian Alps, absorbed in the terrain. The resulting work came in the form of six large right triangles that screened video collages depicting Australia’s Alpine National Park and the neighboring Kiewa hydroelectric complex. It was exhibited at the artist collective Grizzly Grizzly in Philadelphia earlier this year.

Collis’ art also focuses on urban architectural sites. “Singular Space,” a collaboration with Baltimore-based artist Liz Donadio, uses immersive video and sound to provide a portrait of Forum Fountain, a public sculpture in East Baltimore. It’s currently on view at the Arlington Arts Gallery.

For “Strata,” Collis tentatively plans to exhibit large-scale video projections and surround-sound audio. She’ll travel to Canada in March — when the temperature may still be around -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) — to begin her research and exploration.

“Calling it ‘research’ is appropriate because it’s something I’m investigating from all sides of this complex issue,” she said. “Things could shift depending on what I see and experience there. I’ll react to what I capture as data and then decide how to best execute it.”








Conference Grants:

Tess Korobkin - ARTH
Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Association of Historians of American Art, 10/8/2020

Patrick Warfield - MUSC
Florence Price Festival, 8/20/2020

Leigh Wilson Smiley - TDPS
2020 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, 1/14/2020

Innovation Grants:

John Ruppert - ARTT
High Arctic Residency 

Jessica Enoch - ENGL
Remembering Suffrage: Feminist Memory and Activist at the Centennial of the 19th Amendment 

Jan Padios - AMST  
How to Build a Home 

Eric Zakim - SLLC
Israel’s Dirty Little Secret

Nancy Mirabal - AMST
Building a Visual Archive of Community of Color in Washington D.C.: The Historic Photographs of Nancy Shia project 

Subvention Funds:

Hester Baer - SLLC
German Cinema in the Age of Neoliberalism: A New Film History

Joseph Grimmer - MUSC
Paris Conservatoire’s Solo de Concours de Basson Vols 1 & 2: 1898-1938

La Marr Bruce - AMST
How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity


Click here for a list of previous award winners.


Whether or not they enter a voting booth next year, a cross section of about 20,000 people from across the country will get a chance to share their views on race, immigration and politics in the context of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

That’s among the goals of a new project led in part by UMD American studies Professor Janelle Wong that will collect data accurately reflecting the country's complex blend of languages, ethnicities, religions and races.

The National Science Foundation awarded a nearly $1 million grant to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to host the project, called the 2020 Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey (CMPS). It will survey Black, Latino, Asian, white and Muslim American people; those of Native American, Native Hawaiian, black African and black Caribbean descent; and a group of LGBTQ respondents, in six languages. It will focus on issues around identity, immigration and political engagement and civic participation, and allow for the analysis of an individual group or comparative analysis across groups. 

The CMPS will “capture the voices of groups not surveyed very much but who are deeply affected by U.S. policies,” said Wong, who joins Lorrie Frasure-Yokley and Matt Barreto of UCLA and Edward Vargas from Arizona State University in leading the effort. The four professors worked together as co-principal investigators of a study in 2016; the current project builds on that effort. 

“We want to hear from people directly affected—perhaps because they’re excluded from the political system or impacted by its derogatory rhetoric,” Wong said, “or simply affected by the policies that impact immigrants and racial minorities.”  

This is the fourth, and most ambitious, installment of the CMPS, after the self-funded 2016 effort. Smaller studies were conducted in 2008 and 2012.

The CMPS is also unique because it engages researchers from across the country, including first-generation, minority and early-career scholars who might not have the means to field such a large survey on their own.  In 2016, 86 social scientists and researchers from 55 institutions worked collaboratively to help design the questionnaire and analyze the dataset. That resulted in multiple research projects, or what Wong called a “publication boom.”

“A lot of survey data is collected by large Research I institutions, and that can sometimes leave scholars working at HBCUs, Hispanic-serving institutions or tribal colleges out of the opportunities to collect data relevant to their communities or research,” Wong said. 

This time, Wong expects around 150 collaborators from political science and the social sciences. That wide-ranging participation is especially crucial, she said, amid contentious national discussions around topics like race and ethnicity, immigration and nationalism. The survey will capture both voters’ and non-voters’ opinions beginning after the 2020 elections and until early 2021.

With the CMPS, “we’ll have diverse researchers at every stage of their careers,” she said. “Suddenly they’ll have data to write papers and start building their research portfolios.”

By Jessica Weiss '05

Carly Woods wins the James A. Winans-Herbert A. Wichelns Memorial Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address

Debating Women: Gender, Education, and Spaces for Argument, 1835-1945 is an ambitious and impressive scholarly feat. Carly Woods has written a superb book. Woods significantly recasts the thesis that debate is civic education through deep historical research into how women at several colleges and universities in the West over the course of a century expanded both access to the activity and spaces for debate. Debating women, Woods shows, stood and delivered arguments, embodied their cases, and claimed the study and practice of argument, both for themselves and the public good. All told, Debating Women is a standout achievement in the study of rhetoric and public address, a lively reminder of the power of telling the stories of those who demanded to be heard, and a meticulously researched and creative contributor to contemporary contests over who gets to speak, when, how, and about what.


The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded a $50,000 collaborative research grant to the College of Arts and Humanities’ Center for Global Migration Studies for a project entitled “Immigration and the Making of African America.” Led by Julie Greene, professor of history, the project will explore the largely untold history of immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and how they have influenced African American culture and society during the 20th and 21st centuries. 

The grant will support a conference in April 2020 that will connect humanities scholars across the nation as well as fund the planning of a future publication. Scholars will also engage with curators from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

“Across the 20th century, and particularly since 1965, immigration from across the African diaspora has profoundly reshaped the African American experience,” said Greene. “Yet only rarely do immigration scholars and African Americanists engage in dialogue with one another. This project aims to bridge that gap, and along the way, illuminate experiences of race and migration in the modern United States.” 

Greene is director of the Center for Global Migration Studies at the University of Maryland. Her particular interests are in the history of labor and immigration. Her most recent book, “The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal,” focuses on the tens of thousands of working men and women who traveled across the world to live and labor on the canal project. 

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency that supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities. Created in 1965, the agency reviews and funds selected proposals from around the country.  The highly competitive Collaborative Research Grant is awarded to approximately 14 percent of all submitted proposals.

For more information on Greene’s NEH grant and others awarded during this grant cycle, visit the NEH website


College Park, Md.—The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a two-year, $800,000 grant to the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) to develop technology expanding digital access to a vast trove of literature from the pre-modern Persian and Arabic world.

"The Open Islamicate Texts Initiative (OpenITI) Arabic-script OCR Catalyst Project (AOCP)" will support the development of user-friendly, open-source software capable of creating digital texts from Persian and Arabic books. 

Matthew Thomas Miller, assistant professor in the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies in the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures in UMD's College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), leads an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including David Smith, associate professor in the College of Computer and Information Sciences at Northeastern University, Sarah Bowen Savant, professor of Islamic history at Aga Khan University (AKU) in London, Maxim Romanovuniversitätassistent für digital humanities at the University of Vienna along with Raffaele Viglianti, research programmer in the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities. 

"We realized that there was work being done separately in different areas to create tools for digitizing Persian and Arabic documents," said Miller, "but there wasn't a lot of communication across fields and these new advances were not making their way into the hands of users." 

To date, the development of digitization software has primarily focused on Latin-script languages, and in many cases requires specialized knowledge to run. Existing Persian and Arabic digitization tools fall short on accuracy and are often prohibitively expensive for academic and public users. 

Through the creation of new digitization tools for Persian and Arabic, the project team hopes to challenge traditional narratives of Islamic cultural history. The staggering number of Persian and Arabic texts produced in the pre-modern period make it humanly impossible to read them all, even in an entire scholarly lifetime.

"These thousands of unread texts are a potential treasure trove," said Miller. "Until we really get into it and begin digitizing and then examining them, we won't know what we might find or what new narratives and histories might unfold."

The grant will also fund two postdoctoral fellows and two graduate fellows in computer science and Middle Eastern studies. 

"Our goal is to grow capacity throughout these fields," Miller said, "which means both training scholars of Persian and Arabic in digital methods and computer scientists in the particularities of Persian and Arabic documents."

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has supported other UMD projects in the intersections of cultural studies and digital humanities, including the African-American Digital Humanities InitiativeDocumenting The Now Phase 2 and Books.Files, all led by faculty and staff in ARHU. UMD is a widely-acknowledged leader in not only digital humanities, but also Persian and Arabic studies. The Roshan Institute for Persian Studies, which supported an earlier version of this project, is a premier center for the study and teaching of Persian culture in the U.S.

"Centering the digital humanities through the lens of cultural studies is among the college’s top priorities," said Bonnie Thornton Dill, ARHU dean and professor. "As scholars and teachers, our goal is to offer researchers and students new modes of inquiry that expand and deepen their abilities to understand and interpret our increasingly multicultural, global society."

Image: With the new Mellon Foundation grant, OpenITI’s digitization platform, CorpusBuilder, developed in collaboration with the SHARIAsource project of Harvard Law School, will be transformed into a full digital text production pipeline.


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