About The Humanities Writ Large Initiative

Duke University has undertaken a five-year initiative, with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, aimed at redefining the role of the humanities in undergraduate education.  We recognize the need for citizens and leaders to be able to obtain knowledge, to analyze it, and to think and act collaboratively in innovative ways to address growing interdisciplinary and global challenges.  The humanities are vital to providing the training and skills necessary to understand cultural similarities and differences, to sift through the daily fire hose of incoming information, and to make the imaginative leaps in research, scholarship, business, and policy to address the very many complex issues arising around us in our global world.  We invite you to join us in altering the perception of the humanities – making clear the depth of their contribution to all of the interdisciplinary endeavors taking place at Duke.

The Humanities Writ Large initiative includes a series of related components:

Undergraduate Research

Humanities Writ Large aims to infuse the undergraduate experience with opportunities to conduct humanities research and thereby learn how humanities fields contribute valuable new knowledge through humanistic analysis, perspective and methods. This is a provocative challenge to the traditional paradigm that research needs to be restricted to faculty and graduate students experts, and also supports Duke’s broader goal of increasing undergraduate research in all fields. Our belief is that early exposure to humanistic research and analysis helps students become more thoughtful architects of their own education and more sophisticated consumers of the humanities throughout their lives. 

Emerging Humanities Networks

Emerging Networks are a culture change mechanism intended to shift humanities research towards broadly collaborative, interdisciplinary engagements in contrast to the largely solitary efforts that tend to characterize traditional humanities research. Our goal is for nimble and opportunistic cross-disciplinary collaboration to become part of our ethos in realizing humanistic scholarly curiosity. Emerging Networks funding supports short term collaborative projects that must involve faculty, graduate students and undergraduates from multiple disciplines—across humanities departments and/or the social and natural sciences at Duke.

Humanities Labs

Humanities Labs are multi-year programs designed around a theme and intended to drive change and innovation in our undergraduate humanities curriculum through new courses and student research opportunities. Like Emerging Networks, the Humanities Labs are intended to foster interdisciplinary research across humanities disciplines and the social and natural sciences, and to “vertically integrate” faculty, undergraduates and graduate students in shared research projects.  A defining characteristic of a humanities lab is the team physically sharing a space and technology (digital, cartographic, etc.). This is intended to replicate the knowledge production environment we typically associate with the sciences.

Visiting Faculty Fellows

The Visiting Faculty Fellows program is intended to extend the practice of humanities research and education philosophically grounded at the undergraduate level into liberal arts colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Duke, as a research hub, can offer its research opportunities to faculty from these institutions and by extension have its impact on their undergraduates even as we can learn from the knowledge and world-views generated at these other institutions. This element of the HWL grant realizes the Mellon Foundation’s desire to reframe humanities as an engine for new knowledge production and to multiply the benefits of the Humanities Writ Large initiative at Duke.

Bridge Appointments for New Faculty

The Humanities Writ Large grant provides resources to jump-start new hiring of teacher-scholars who embrace and champion our undergraduate-focused approach to humanities education and research. Such hires enable departments and programs to shift towards a new vision by bringing in skill sets and perspectives that augment our core. This resource enables Duke to infuse new forms of interdisciplinarity into our faculty, and expand our breadth and depth for teaching digital tools and visual studies in the humanities.

Library and Technology

We anticipate that many of the new areas of research and teaching developed through Humanities Writ Large will require different kinds of library and technology support than has previously been available to most Humanities faculty.  Resources have been put in place to provide this support, including a Humanities Academic Technology Consultant / Librarian as well as specially trained graduate assistants, and funding for hardware and software.

Assessment and Evaluation

In order to know how successful Duke is in fulfilling the goals of this grant, benchmarking and regular quantitative and qualitative assessment will be conducted, allowing for mid-course corrections if needed and a firm understanding of what has been accomplished by the end of the five-year initiative.