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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

Middlebury receives $1.48 million grant from Mellon Foundation to address migrant justice through the humanities

Middlebury received a $1.48 million grant through the Mellon Foundation to create humanities programs focused on migrant justice.
Middlebury received a $1.48 million grant through the Mellon Foundation to create humanities programs focused on migrant justice.

Through the Axinn Center for the Humanities Middlebury has received a $1.48 million grant from the Mellon Foundation’s Humanities for All Times, an initiative that fosters education and research on migrant justice in Vermont and globally through the creation of thirty new Public Humanities Labs. The news of the grant’s acceptance was announced in a campus-wide email released on Feb. 2. 

The grant proposal was written in 2019 by Professor of History Ian Barrow, Associate Professor of History of Art & Architecture Carrie Anderson, Henry N. Hudson Professor of English Marion Wells and Professor of History Febe Armanios. Wells and Armanios are the co-founders of the Axinn Center for the Humanities, and Barrow and Anderson are its current directors. Each professor holds the position of Principal Investigator on the grant and distributes the allocated funds amongst faculty. 

The four grant authors spoke with The Campus about their involvement with the Axinn Center for the Humanities, the acquisition of the Mellon grant and their thoughts on current attitudes about the humanities.

One of the grant’s primary aims is to help fix what Wells referred to as a “crisis occurring in the humanities,” which she attributed to a pedagogical issue of framing. 

“Our goal was to create a hub for the study of humanities on campus and a set of resources for students and faculty, and we came down to focus on two central things: pedagogy and research,” Wells said. 

In their 2019 proposal, Wells and Armanios stressed the importance of key skills developed in humanities studies. Wells listed the examples of cogent writing, constructing arguments, critical thinking and global cultural awareness.

The Public Humanities Labs initiative was proposed by Wells and Armanios to remedy the lack of professional applications for humanities skills that exist for students within the classroom. According to Wells, it is the lack of clarity concerning the practical possibilities for skills one can gain that discourages many students from pursuing careers in the humanities. 

“The skills that you learn across the curriculum and humanities classes will go on to serve you very well in employment, which isn’t always a narrative that students hear,” Wells said. “I think the Mellon Foundation really agrees with that, so a big part of our application was highlighting just how we're going to include and incorporate and strengthen these humanities skills in the context of the [labs].”

The Public Humanities Lab program was created in service of both concentrations and designed to emphasize the importance of experiential learning, according to Wells. The Humanities Labs are designed to culminate in the creation of what Wells called a “public-facing component” — students consolidate the research conducted throughout the course of the lab into a publicly-accessible module, such as a website or museum exhibit.

The thirty new Humanities Labs funded by the grant will focus on issues of migration within and beyond Vermont, and will be specially designed to foster partnerships between faculty, students and local organizations working on issues of migrant justice.

The grant officially came through in November but was embargoed until January, so the note recently went out to humanities faculty with information about the application process for grant money. 

“Faculty will apply and propose to do public humanities labs courses under the general umbrella of Migrant Justice in Vermont and beyond,” Armanios explained. 

“We’ve had a lot of interest,” Wells added. 

Barrow is constructing a proposal for a course about South Asian migration in which he hopes to collaborate with local communities to educate students about the past and current issues of South Asian migrants.

Armanios hopes to apply for a portion of the grant money to fund her teachings of a Humanities Lab. The lab would be centered around her research conducted last year in the Ottoman Diaspora in New England project, where she used archival materials from Rhode Island and Vermont to study Middle East migrants living in New England.  

Anderson believes that through these initiatives, she can highlight the importance of using writing, research and archival work to further make an impact on the migrant justice movement. 

Barrow also described plans for the creation of a faculty research seminar, along with the creators’ aim to welcome more visiting speakers on campus. Part of the grant money will also fund annual training sessions for professors teaching the Labs to take place at the end of spring semesters.

He added that they plan to offer up to 15 students an opportunity to do research on migration for a $5,000 stipend. 

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Wells added that the team hopes to hire a postdoctoral fellow specializing in migration studies for a two-year period. The fellow would teach one class and provide public lectures on their research. 

Additionally, the creators organized a workshop scheduled for this March. The workshop will involve ten faculty members engaging in a day of dialogue alongside local organizations focused on issues related to migration. According to Armanios, conversations will center around the best ways to create generative partnerships between faculty, the college and the surrounding community such that future research may be conducted in the least intrusive way possible. 

“We think that having thirty new [Humanities Labs] will be really transformative, both for the humanities, but also for the college, in a good way,” Barrow said. 

Editor’s note: Managing Editor Ryan McElroy ’25 worked with Professor of History Febe Armanios last summer and fall on her Ottoman Diaspora in New England project.