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New grant program to boost arts, humanities research

By Clifton B. Parker on October 12, 2012 in University

UC Davis this week launched a new grants program aimed at spurring multidisciplinary collaborations in the humanities, arts and humanistic social sciences.

The Office of Research will coordinate the Interdisciplinary Frontiers in the Humanities and Arts program, which will provide UC Davis faculty with seed money — grants ranging from $100,000 to $1 million over three years—to further strengthen their ability to compete for major foundation, federal and philanthropic grants and to explore private partnerships. Successful proposals will be those that demonstrate the greatest potential for excellence in research and creative production, as well as societal impact.

Harris Lewin, UC Davis’ vice chancellor for research, said, “The goal of our new Interdisciplinary Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities program is to identify and support innovative projects across the campus that that will impact the intellectual, artistic and social growth of the campus, the region and the world at large.”

He added, “With our society facing so many challenges, now is the time to invest in innovative interdisciplinary research that values culture over conflict and fosters creative expression, social justice and public good.” 

The application deadline for proposal submissions is Jan. 10, 2013. The grants will be announced by May 31, 2013. More information, including how to apply for the grants, is available through the Office of Research.

Lewin said that proposals will be reviewed by a panel composed of distinguished humanists, social scientists, and artists from academia and other private organizations. The review panel will advise his office on the merits of the thematic proposals and rank them for funding. The Office of Research, in consultation with the provost and the chair of the UC Davis Academic Senate, will be responsible for making the final decisions and implementing the recommendations of the review panel. 

The new humanities and arts initiative is a subprogram of the Interdisciplinary Frontiers Program that Lewin launched in early 2012. The Research Investments in Science and Engineering subprogram — known as RISE — successfully concluded its competition last June with more than $10 million released to launch 13 new interdisciplinary initiatives.

‘Engages the major issues’

Jessie Ann Owens, dean of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, said the new program is a significant step toward supporting research in a broad array of disciplines.

“We pride ourselves on doing a distinctive kind of work in the humanities and humanistic social sciences that engages the major issues facing our world,” Owens said. “This imaginative program will support outstanding research in areas that traditionally receive little federal funding, and help enhance the collaborations for which UC Davis is known.”

Suad Joseph, a distinguished professor of anthropology and women’s studies who served on the committee that drafted the request for applications, said, “The grants will encourage us to think big, to come out of our silos and break out of this notion that the humanities can only get small grants. This a chance to stop and think, ‘What are we doing here that is of benefit to our society and humanity?’”

Joseph provided an example of such a collaboration that she said will strengthen the quality of UC Davis’ research across the university:

“I could easily imagine someone in the arts collaborating with faculty in design, history and economics who want to look at ecology and how environmental issues have been treated by each of those disciplines. Those kinds of projects have an artistic, humanistic, economic and sociological side. The visionary power of the IFHA is the call for faculty, on this campus, to work together across disciplines and colleges to produce innovative and path-breaking research which adds to the social good.”

Agreeing is Mario Biagioli, a distinguished professor of law and science and technology studies who also served on the committee. He emphasized that IFHA is a great opportunity to build reciprocal, long-lasting collaborative relationships.

“Given the fact that, historically, Davis is a predominantly science-oriented campus, it is especially important for the sciences to be brought into the humanities and vice-versa,” Biagioli said.

“The IFHA program can be a model for other universities,” he added. “It is really innovative in the sense in that it’s asking the humanities, the arts and the qualitative social sciences to reach out of their own colleges and collaborate with other parts of campus.”

Interdisciplinary collaborations

Carolyn de la Peña, director of the UC Davis Humanities Institute and professor of American studies, said the program is another step toward the campus’s recognition of collaborative research across the humanities and social sciences.

“Faculty who have long worked across disciplines can expand their research agendas, and new thought communities can come to the surface,” de la Peña said. “We look forward to a selection process that identifies those ideas and approaches that can best understand or improve the human condition.”

Christina Cogdell, an associate professor of design and art history, said that world-class interdisciplinary research is what attracted her to join the UC Davis faculty in 2009. Her own work connects the history of popular science—evolutionary theory, eugenics, and complex dynamic systems—with its influence on the history of architecture and design.

“I am so excited to see the Office of Research sponsoring the RISE and IFHA fellowship programs because this is exactly the kind of opportunity that is needed to kick start serious cross-college interdisciplinary collaborations at the cutting edge of knowledge,” Cogdell said.

She noted, “I believe that many key 21st-century innovations and theoretical advances will stem from scholars in vastly different disciplines working together, sharing their methodologies and creative insights in order to spur new ways of perceiving and solving problems.”

Funds for IFP come from indirect costs recovered from grants awarded to UC Davis under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly known as stimulus funds. Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi set aside those funds for reinvestment in campus research, consistent with her Vision of Excellence and the goal of reaching $1 billion in sponsored research activity.

Suad, the anthropology professor, encourages her faculty colleagues to apply.

“Let’s think ‘what do we give back’ and use this as an opportunity to show that,” she said. “Life without art and the humanities and social sciences is much diminished. We must make our case in these times of budgetary cutbacks. It is up to us — scholars of the arts, humanities and social sciences — to show who we are and what we offer to society.”

Betsy Towner is writer for the College of Letters and Science.

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Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,