Humanities Institute secures $650,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

January 15, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s Humanities Institute has received a three-year, $650,000 charitable grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the institute’s ongoing Public Humanities Initiative.

The Public Humanities Initiative seeks to highlight the social value of the humanities by examining pressing social issues from the more comprehensive perspective of humanities scholars, and by teaching future generations of humanists how to share their research ideas in order to respond to these rapidly shifting challenges. It is the result of a partnership between the Humanities Institute, part of the College of the Liberal Arts, and the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

“Scholarship in humanities disciplines is critical for addressing today’s social challenges,” said John Christman, professor of philosophy and director of the Humanities Institute. “Rapidly changing technologies, social dynamics and identities, and political alignments make broad reflections of the human condition even more important. Scholarly research fields like history, philosophy, the languages, cultural studies and communication provides the substance and platform for such reflections.

“The Public Humanities Initiative allows us to explore topical social issues such as public memory, immigration, religion and violence in a way that contextualizes policy debates in a broader historical and philosophical perspective. It also affords us an opportunity to highlight research being conducted by Penn State scholars that provides crucial background for the deeper questions lying beneath policy debates and social controversies.”

The Public Humanities Initiative includes three primary components:

  • HumIn Focus, a web-based video series produced in partnership with WPSU that explores pressing social issues through the lens of the research of humanities scholars who provide the background and context lying behind the issues. The first episode, produced this past fall, focused on Confederate monuments in the broader context of public memory and the practices of social memorialization in general.
  • A Public Humanities Undergraduate Fellows program that will allow 10 to 15 undergraduate students who are majoring in a humanities discipline to participate in the research and production of the HumIn Focus series each semester. The students will help generate ideas and conduct background research for episode topics and aid in video production, giving them valuable communication and production skills and enriching their interest in the humanities.
  • Public engagement by using the HumIn Focus videos to facilitate discussions in central Pennsylvania area high schools and community groups. These discussions will be led by a specially trained postdoctoral fellow and will include participation by the Public Humanities Undergraduate Fellows.

“We are grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for partnering with us to promote the important scholarly work in humanities disciplines to the public, and to show the social value of that research in responding to the world’s pressing problems,” Christman said.

To learn more about the institute and the Public Humanities Initiative, visit

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated January 29, 2019