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Research and Scholarly Work

8/30/19

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

8/28/19

When you close your eyes while listening to music, it can feel like you’re in the room with the musicians. Now, thanks to a new virtual reality collaboration between the university’s College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS), you almost will be.

 

Irina Muresanu, an associate professor of violin, has been digitally captured and transported to locations that represent musical compositions from different cultures that make up her “Four Strings Around the World” project, a studio album and series of live concerts that celebrate diverse musical cultures.

The technology the VR project puts on display can also empower teaching, remote medicine and other applications—along with new vistas in the performing arts. Attending a live concert performance can be impossible for hospital patients, or those with low incomes, said Amitabh Varshney, professor of computer science and CMNS dean. “We don’t want anyone to be deprived of these amazing gems of human performances that can lift people up in a very dramatic way,” he said.

8/16/19

Michigan State University has received a $695,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund the Humane Metrics for the Humanities and Social Sciences (HuMetricsHSS) initiative, an international partnership that supports the development and implementation of new methods for assessing the nature and quality of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences over the next 18 months. 

The HuMetricsHSS initiative aims to create and support a values-based framework that enables humanities and social sciences scholars to tell more textured and compelling stories about the impact of their research and the variety of ways it enriches public life. It is led by an international group including Nicky Agate, Assistant Director of Scholarly Communication and Digital Projects at Columbia University; Rebecca Kennison, Executive Director and Principal of the nonprofit K|N Consultants; Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University and Professor of Philosophy; Jason Rhody, Program Director at the Social Science Research Council; Simone Sacchi, Open Science Librarian at the European University Institute; Bonnie Thornton Dill, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU) at the University of Maryland and Professor of Women’s Studies; and Penny Weber, Projects Coordinator at the Social Science Research Council.

At the heart of this work is the recognition that the culture of higher education is shaped by practices of scholarly communication. In an era in which metrics increasingly shape how scholarship is undertaken and evaluated, HuMetricsHSS takes an innovative approach that begins by identifying values that enrich practices of scholarship in order to expand the breadth of what counts as a “scholarly contribution."

By creating a more “humane” metrics framework, the initiative seeks to diminish the broad reliance on metrics that either presupposes value as reflected in “neutral” indicators (such as citations) or that fails to consider the question of value at all in a scholar’s work. Instead, HuMetricsHSS advances a practiced-based approach that is holistic, reflective, and transparent.

“By orienting scholars and institutions toward the values about which they care most deeply and by providing them with structured ways to intentionally embody those values in the practices by which knowledge is created, shared, and evaluated, we hope to help individuals, departments, colleges, and academic institutions reshape the culture of higher education so that it is more humane, supportive, and just,” Long said.

Over the next 18 months, the Mellon grant will fund onsite values-focused workshops at a number of institutions in the US and the EU, research into the current processes of scholarly evaluation, the creation of a values toolkit, and continued development of HuMetricsHSS software.

“The work Dean Long and I are doing to engage our colleagues across the Big 10 Academic Alliance will help the HuMetricsHSS team assess how campuses in the United States and European Union utilize metrics in HSS,” Thornton Dill said. “This work will provide a framework for measuring impact that reflects the values and modes of inquiry in our fields."

By the end of this grant period, the research team anticipates that pilots of the HuMetricsHSS framework will be deployed by several institutions at some level and progress will be made on building a replicable model to advance adoption beyond these pilots. The team also is working on more direct engagement and robust collaborations with other like-minded projects and related institutions and furthering research software infrastructure for scholarly and administrative use.

“Success in achieving these goals will in part be measured by an increase in those using the toolkit and undertaking these critical conversations even without our direct involvement,” Long said. “While we are hopeful that HuMetricsHSS will gain traction during this phase of the work, the next phase — designed to expand and reinforce the work done now — will require considerable additional funding to integrate the values-based HuMetricsHSS approach into all aspects of faculty and staff development at a wide diversity of institutions around the world.”

This is the second Mellon grant received by Michigan State University to support the HuMetricsHSS initiative. The first was for $309,000, which funded an 18-month pilot that included a series of workshops bringing together scholars from a variety of institutions in the US and Europe to identify and define values and practices that enrich scholarship. From these workshops, the HuMetricsHSS team further refined their approach to better recognize, promote, and nurture scholarly practices by creating a small set of use cases for applying the values-based framework and the second round of funding will allow a deeper institutional engagement both in the US and the EU. 

The Provost and the Vice President for Research invite applications for the Independent Scholarship, Research, and Creativity Awards (ISRCA) from fulltime, tenured/tenure-track faculty members at the University of Maryland, College Park, at the assistant professor rank or higher. This new program provides several funding options to support faculty pursuing scholarly or creative projects. Funds of up to $10,000 per award will support semester teaching release, summer salary, and/or research related expenses. Funding will be available beginning January 2020 and must be expended within two years of the award date.

This program is designed to support the professional advancement of faculty engaged in scholarly and creative pursuits that use historical, humanistic, interpretive, or ethnographic approaches; explore aesthetic, ethical, and/or cultural values and their roles in society; conduct critical or rhetorical analyses; engage in archival and/or field research; or develop or produce creative works. Awardees will be selected based on peer review of the quality of the proposed project, the degree to which the project will lead to the applicant's professional advencement, and the potential academic and societal impact of the project. 

Click here for more information and guidelines and instructions.

Please direct any questions about the program to Linda Aldoory, Associate Dean for Research and Programming, at laldoory@umd.edu.

 

NOTE: Please join us for an Info Session on this new opportunity on September 6, 2019 @ 10am, 1102J FSK.

7/8/19

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.

7/9/19

he playful notes of “Tango Etude No. 3” by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla dance amid a lush backdrop of manicured hedgerows and crimson azaleas at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

Irina Muresanu, an associate professor of violin in the University of Maryland School of Music, adds another burst of color, wearing a floral gown as vibrant as the piece she’s performing directly in front of you.

Yet neither you nor Muresanu is actually there.

What you’re seeing is a hologram of the artist, who—with sound flowing from her 1849 Giuseppe Rocca violin—has been digitally captured and transported to this and other locations that represent musical compositions from different cultures.
Irina Muresanu playing violin

This new virtual reality experience is a collaboration between the university’s College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS). It builds on Muresanu’s “Four Strings Around the World” project, a studio album and series of live concerts that celebrate diverse musical cultures through the unifying voice of the solo violin.

Muresanu said this virtual adaptation of Four Strings offers a trove of possibilities in both musical education and performance.

“We could have only dreamt of something like this several years ago,” she said, giving the example of virtually performing in the exact location that inspired a musical masterpiece. “But that’s what we’re supposed to do as academics—take the dream one step closer toward reality.”

Making the dream happen, however, meant overcoming several technical and logistical challenges.

Television stations and movie productions have long used green screens to superimpose weather anchors in front of forecast maps, or place actors in elaborate settings that are impractical to film. But that technology is good only for two-dimensional viewing on a television or movie screen, or more recently, on a smartphone.

Full immersion, where viewers can experience a scene in 360 degrees as if they were there in person, requires a much higher level of technical proficiency, said Amitabh Varshney, a professor of computer science and dean of CMNS.

The innovation for the violin project came out of the Maryland Blended Reality Center (MBRC), where, among other efforts, researchers are developing new immersive technologies to capture the intricate hand movements of surgeons at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. “We’re focused on accurately representing the highest levels of nuances and details, so that it can be used as a teaching tool,” Varshney said.

The MBRC team applied the same technology used to record a surgery to virtually render the rapid hand and bow arm movements of Muresanu’s violin playing. They also incorporated spatial audio, meaning 3D sound that “moves” in tandem as a listener turns his or her head or looks up and down.

After filming Muresanu on a soundstage performing three pieces from Four Strings, Varshney’s team hit the road to film the immersive background settings needed to complement the music.

The National Arboretum in peak bloom represents the joy of Piazzolla’s South American tango. Three majestic New York City cathedrals are the backdrop for Bach’s powerful “Chaconne” from the Partita in D minor.

For composer George Enescu’s “Airs in Romanian Folk Style,” Muresanu had a special request: Growing up in Bucharest, she had always wanted to perform in the Romanian Athenaeum, one of Europe’s grandest concert halls. When Varshney’s technical team was unable to find suitable 360-degree footage from inside the building, Muresanu gained access for a professional European crew to film it.

Now Muresanu and Varshney are seeking private support for the additional technical and staffing resources needed to film an entire virtual concert. They believe the technology will be useful for teaching: Violin students from anywhere in the world can analyze—multiple times at any speed from any angle—the motions of Muresanu’s hands and bow arm.

Virtual reality technology also helps democratize the performing arts, Varshney said. Attending a live concert performance can be expensive and inconvenient, if not impossible for, say, hospital patients, or those with low incomes. “We don’t want anyone to be deprived of these amazing gems of human performances that can lift people up in a very dramatic way,” he said.

By Tom Ventsias 

7/9/19

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded two grants totaling $2.8 million to the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) to encourage research in black digital humanities and to develop technology expanding digital access to books from the pre-modern Persian and Arabic world. 

A $2 million, three-year grant will support the second phase of the African American History, Culture and Digital Humanities (AADHUM) initiative. Housed in the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), AADHUUM seeks to expand and institutionalize the field of black digital humanities at UMD and beyond. The first phase of the initiative was also funded by The Mellon Foundation. 
 
"African American history and culture are central to American history and culture," said Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the college and professor of women’s studies. "Making this knowledge widely available and giving people the opportunity to have hands-on experiences using digital technology to tell important stories is critical to enhancing our democracy."

She will continue to lead the project with Daryle Williams, associate professor of history and ARHU associate dean for faculty affairs, and Trevor Muñoz, interim director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) and assistant dean for digital humanities research in the University Libraries.

They will establish a long-term home for black digital humanities at UMD by hiring additional faculty, formalizing a competitive graduate research training and professionalization experience, offering mentor-training programs, expanding research partnerships with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and developing best practices for tenure and promotion in black digital humanities.

Muñoz said AADHum has transformed the practice of digital humanities at MITH.
    
“If MITH offers a workshop on digital mapping, we need to make space for discussing the vulnerability that mapping certain populations, like activists or undocumented immigrants, creates,” he said.

The second Mellon Foundation grant, of $800,000 over two years, 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 college’s School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, leads an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Northeastern University, Aga Khan University (AKU) in London and the University of Vienna along with Raffaele Viglianti, research programmer at MITH.

"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.

"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."

As part of the research team’s commitment to innovative software development and collaborative, interdisciplinary research, it will foster a community of users by hosting regular training sessions, establishing online user groups and teaching an undergraduate digital humanities class hosted jointly at Maryland and AKU through UMD's Global Classrooms Initiative.

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."

By K. Lorraine Graham

7/8/19

Years ago, Richard Bell sat on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport, dismayed that his delayed flight grounded his chance to see a then-new musical in New York about the “10-dollar founding father,” Alexander Hamilton.

Many fans can relate to missing out on “Hamilton: An American Musical,” though Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit has expanded to venues beyond Broadway—including at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre until July 21.Richard Bell headshot

Bell, an associate professor of history, later saw “Hamilton” in Cleveland, Chicago, Louisville and even his native London, and now he teaches about the periods the show covers in his classes at UMD. While he’s a fan, he’s also analyzed the musical through a scholar’s lens, giving lectures at museums and to historical societies around the nation. He spoke with Maryland Today about what he admires about the show and answers the question: Does it measure up to revolutionary reality?

How did you first get into “Hamilton”?
I'm a longtime fan of musical theater. I've seen “Cats” seven times—I don’t recommend that to anyone now, but it was a mainstay of my teenage years. “Hamilton” is a great piece of musical theater. It’s got characters you care about, it’s relentlessly propulsive and dramatic, and some of the songs are just luminous.

And then, of course, I’m a historian. I study the American past, particularly the period between the American Revolution and the Civil War. So to see some of the events, people, themes, questions and ideas that I teach up on stage being sung about, being sometimes rapped about, was extraordinarily interesting.

Historically, what does the musical get right?
Quite a lot, actually. It captures all sorts of complicated truths about the American past, like the importance of the French alliance during the war, George Washington’s struggle to find good lieutenants and the bitter nastiness of partisan politics after George Washington retires.

It tells us why sensible, intelligent men dueled with each other and how presidential elections worked before the passage of the 12th Amendment, which put an end to the practice of the runner-up becoming vice president. If you didn’t know anything about any of this stuff before you saw this show, you could do worse than use “Hamilton” as your textbook.

What does it get wrong, and does that matter?
To be fair, if your job is to turn an 800-page biography of the first secretary of the treasury into three hours of all-singing, all-dancing Broadway fun, it’s perfectly understandable if you occasionally condense characters, collapse time and move a few things around.

But the larger answer is that when it comes to larger themes, like the depiction of the American Revolution, 18th century women, the role of immigrants and questions related to slavery and race, this show falls a little bit short. I’m a British person with a British accent, so you should take what I say with a grain of salt, but all historians who study the American Revolution have critiqued the show for its fairly simplistic depiction of the American Revolution as a struggle between patriot heroes and their not-so-heroic opponents.

It’s easy to say that we shouldn’t take Broadway theater too seriously. Certainly no one goes to see “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical” expecting SpongeBob, Squidward and the boys to get marine biology just perfectly right. But with “Hamilton’s” extraordinary success and because of the explicit attempts Miranda has made to imbue it with historical credibility, we must take it seriously. We must ask ourselves, “Is this good public history?” The answer to that question matters, of course, because by now an awful lot of people have seen this show.

What’s the impact of having the key roles played by performers of color?
Because the stage is full of non-white actors, audiences don't seem to notice that there are no black characters up on stage. I think the show would be richer if some of the scenes contained enslaved characters and free black characters. We know they were hugely important to the story of the American Revolution.

Miranda sees this very differently. He has said that the casting of non-white actors in the roles of white founding fathers, many of whom were slaveholders, is intentional, political and progressive, a way to highlight the hypocrisy. I’m not sure who’s right.

What does the show’s rap style add to the story?
The use of rap and hip-hop to tell the story of the American Revolution is the smartest and best decision Miranda made, because these are the musical styles associated with the streets, with defiance and ambition, with a put-upon people ready to rise up.

Why do you think “Hamilton” has become so popular—and is it worth the hype?
Politically, it’s worked hard to offer something to everyone. When the patriot characters talk about what they’re fighting for, it’s intentionally pretty vague. They’re fighting for freedom, but freedom from what, freedom to do what? It’s left hazy enough that audiences can project whatever agenda they wish onto the patriot characters and come away happy.

To be clear, I love this show, and if it’s starting conversations about what really happened and about the larger themes and questions produced by the American Revolution, that’s a wonderful thing. Hamilton has provided scholars like me with the ultimate teachable moment.

Writer Annie Dankelson has seen “Hamilton” in New York three times—two of which were the result of winning a $10 ticket lottery.

By Annie Dankelson

7/8/19

College Park, Md.—The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a three-year, $2,000,000 grant to the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) for the second phase of the African American History, Culture and Digital Humanities (AADHUM) initiative. Housed in the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), AADHUUM seeks to expand and institutionalize the field of Black digital humanities at UMD and beyond.  

Since its inception three years ago, AADHUM has been an incubator for innovative scholarship and teaching that increases access to important resources on African American history and culture in America while creating a new generation of technologically-savvy researchers.

The first phase of AADHUM was funded by a $1.25 million Mellon Foundation grant, bringing together students and scholars of African American studies and digital humanities to enrich and expand both fields. The original grant enabled the AADHUM team to lay the foundation necessary to meet the challenges of the integration of scholarship, training and community engagement. 

"African American history and culture are central to American history and culture," said Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the college and professor of women’s studies. "Making this knowledge widely available and giving people the opportunity to have hands-on experiences using digital technology to tell important stories is critical to enhancing our democracy."

An undergraduate research course on African American history and culture and digital archives is exemplary of AADHum's inclusive approach. Assistant Professor of Communications Catherine Knight Steele, who directed the initiative through June 2019, collaboratively taught the course with AADHUM postdoctoral associate Jessica Lu. Students created archival projects around Black digital culture and learned a variety of coding languages and digital tools to build them. They presented their work at the inaugural AADHUM conference in 2018, "Intentionally Digital, Intentionally Black."

Thornton Dill will continue to lead the project with Daryle Williams, associate professor of history and ARHU associate dean for faculty affairs, and Trevor Muñoz, interim director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) and assistant dean for digital humanities research in the University of Maryland Libraries.

The leadership team will establish a long-term home for black digital humanities at UMD by hiring additional faculty, formalizing a competitive graduate research training and professionalization experience, offering mentor-training programs, expanding research partnerships with nearby historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and developing best practices for tenure and promotion in black digital humanities. 

Muñoz said AADHUM has transformed the practice of digital humanities at MITH.

“If MITH offers a workshop on digital mapping, we need to make space for discussing the vulnerability that mapping certain populations, like activists or undocumented immigrants, creates,” he said. “AADHUM has shifted our approach to what we study and how we study it."

UMD has significant resources to support and sustain AADHUM's work. In recent years, ARHU has hired 10 new faculty members in different units who work in African American history and culture. With the support of MITH and several other ARHU units, the college also launched a new graduate certificate in Digital Studies in the Arts and Humanities in 2017. 

"AADHum's innovative model of scholarship and training gives us a template for conducting research in the field of cultural studies using digital tools,"said Thornton Dill. "This interdisciplinary approach will help both scholars and students address the wonders and challenges of a diverse, changing world," said Thornton Dill.

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