Clark Atlanta University (CAU) was recently awarded $578,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to use over three years to develop a digital humanities infrastructure at the college.

According to the university, Digital Humanities (DH) is an interdisciplinary field that includes various topics in Humanistic research while incorporating computational/digital tools and quantitative methodologies.

These tools can include mapping neighborhoods, mining texts, digital storytelling, and more

“We are thankful to the Mellon Foundation for this incredible gift that furthers our ability to study our past and understand how the continuum of history informs our present and shapes our future,” said Dr. George T. French, president of Clark Atlanta University. “Our university’s mission is to uplift lives. We enjoy fuller, more purposeful lives when we understand the richness of our past and can pass that knowledge on to our children, who will be made stronger and more resilient for it. This is a gift for them as much as for us.”

CAU has a history of collaborative approaches to research that combine various academic disciplines with data visualization. 

Nearly a century ago, one of Clark Atlanta University’s parent institutions, Atlanta University, pioneered a course that applied computational tools and methods to traditional humanities disciplines such as literature, history, and philosophy.

In 1900, while at Atlanta University W.E.B. Du Bois conducted a comprehensive study of the Black experience through imagery that ranged from local Georgia population diagrams to graphs depicting Black businessmen in the United States to bar charts examining African American religious affiliations. 

“We are building on the legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, who created a series of data portraits while at Atlanta University,” said Dr. Rico D. Chapman, associate dean of CAU’s School of Arts & Sciences and Director of the Humanities Ph.D. Program. “This work, completed more than one hundred years ago, is foundational to current practices in digital humanities, where data visualization is critical in making research findings accessible to a broader audience.” 

According to the university, Digital Humanities is often described as a field that symbolically and tangibly connects the past, present, and future.

This year, CAU conducted a Workshop Series and Summer Institute aimed at helping faculty and HBCU graduate school students to think deeply about digital humanities and how to build this type of program at their respective institutions.

According to Chapman, the founding director of the Center for Africana Digital Humanities at CAU, the University will continue to use the funds to:

  • Organize faculty development workshops that introduce various computational tools and concepts that can be used in the classroom or included in collaborative research projects.
  • Conduct summer institutes focused on the context necessary to understand digital humanities and its relationship to the recovery, honoring, preservation, and storytelling of the black experience.

Clark Atlanta University reports that they plan to host an interdisciplinary HBCU Africana Digital Humanities conference open to all scholars from HBCUs. The gathering will explore history, literature, sociology, politics, and the arts using technology as a means of recovery, healing, and knowledge production.