Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellows

The Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society program provides opportunities for faculty who teach and advise doctoral students to engage significant societal questions in their research, serve as ambassadors for humanities scholarship beyond the academy, and deepen their support for doctoral curricular innovation on their campuses. Scholars and Society Fellows pursue research projects while in residence at US-based cultural, media, government, policy, or community organizations, where they can create mutually beneficial partnerships in which they collaborate, interact, and learn about each other’s work, motivating questions, methods, and practices. In addition to supporting a year of research in residence, the awards also provide funding for fellows to develop on-campus and off-campus programming that draws on connections developed during the fellowship year and fosters greater understanding of the value of humanities scholarship and doctoral education beyond the academy. The program is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Read more about this fellowship program.

Please note: affiliations shown are as of time of award. Please click on fellows' names for current information.

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Watch "Emerging Themes and Methods of Research: A Discussion with ACLS Fellows," an annual meeting session featuring recent ACLS fellows. 

Zara Anishanslin
Zara Anishanslin  |  Abstract
In the American revolutionary era, the lives of three artist-Patriots, each notable American firsts, overlapped in London: Prince Demah (first identifiable enslaved portraitist), Robert Edge Pine (founder of the first art museum), and Patience Wright (first sculptor). Neglected or erased, their histories counter popular misconceptions about a whitewashed founding era that have encouraged structural racism, sexism, and nativism. Partnering with one of our groundbreaking cultural institutions, the Museum of the American Revolution, this project highlights the pivotal contributions women, Black people, and immigrants made to an American Revolution that was a global civil war. Its public humanities projects include a monograph, museum exhibition, graphic novel, and material culture "vlog." Delaware’s Am Civ program, characterized by doing history through material culture, has long trained emerging PhDs to pursue diverse professional pathways in the public humanities. This project will reinvigorate the University of Delaware American Civilizations program’s career diversity and material culture training in exciting new ways through deepening our connections to a cultural institution that exemplifies using objects to bring cutting-edge scholarship to broad audiences.

Associate Professor, History and Art History, University of Delaware  -  London Patriots: Transatlantic Politics, Material Culture, and the American Revolution
Museum of the American Revolution

Mary C. Foltz
Mary C. Foltz  |  Abstract
The project expands holdings in small urban LGBTQ archives by building collections through work with community organizations, including organizations led by transgender people and people of color, and showcases the value of LGBTQ political history in small urban centers. Through collaboration with the Lehigh Valley LGBT Community Archives, the project explores how LGBTQ activists in eastern Pennsylvania drew upon the strategies of cosmopolitan radicals and diverged from them in order to address the specific challenges of our small urban center, surrounded by conservative rural communities. With an exhibition about the political work of LGBTQ activists from 1969-present and scholarly articles, the project shows how activists in small urban centers contribute to statewide and national progressive movements while modeling the value of scholarly work in community archives. The host organization for this project is Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Community Center (Allentown, PA), which developed regional LGBT community archives in 2016 and continues to support archival expansion and exhibition to enhance knowledge of regional history. The project will help to integrate public humanities work into graduate programs at Lehigh University by creating more sustainable structures to support both faculty and graduate students’ community engagement and public scholarship.

Associate Professor, English, Lehigh University  -  Expanding and Activating LGBTQ Community Archives in Small Urban Centers
Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center

David Sterling Brown
David Sterling Brown  |  Abstract
With Shakespeare and premodern critical race studies as its scholarly entry points, “Minding Whiteness” aims to collapse the boundary that often silos the antiracist public engagement happening in the humanities and higher education, public engagement that would undoubtedly benefit from more consistent exposure to the perspectives of brilliant creative minds and non-academics who are also critiquing—through other means such as poetry, filmmaking, studio art and performance art—fundamentally important questions about race, racism, whiteness and anti-blackness. As a collaboration with The Racial Imaginary Institute, a “cultural laboratory” Claudia Rankine founded to foster intellectual creativity and engagement across disciplinary lines, “Minding Whiteness” maintains a race-conscious, social justice-oriented mission centered on interrogating the shifting meanings, and shifty ways, of whiteness. Ultimately, this project will reimagine the kinds of professional opportunities that can enable PhD candidates to use their unique skill sets, within and outside of academia, in the fight against racism, white supremacy and pervasive global anti-blackness.

Assistant Professor, English, Binghamton University, State University of New York  -  Minding Whiteness: The Racial Imaginaries of Our Time
The Racial Imaginary Institute

Elisabeth Gabrielle Kuenzli
Elisabeth Gabrielle Kuenzli  |  Abstract
Horse racing, one of the oldest and most celebrated sports in America, is embedded in Southern culture and identity. Journalists repeatedly refer to the premier horse racing event, the Kentucky Derby, as “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” Yet what transpires in those two minutes reflects decades-long changes that have redefined social and racial hierarchies in the sport and in American society. The majority of the successful jockeys in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are Latino. The Aiken Training Track, founded in 1941 and located in Aiken, SC, is a premier training center, especially for young horses. Boasting slogans such as “Train Here, Win Anywhere,” link Aiken to nationally competitive race horses such as Forty-Niner and Palace Malice. In partnership with Lisa Hall, curator and director of the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum in Aiken, South Carolina, the exhibit will historicize the role of the Latino jockey as well as render visible the place of Latinos in a rural southern community. This case study will illuminate the experience of the growing Latino population through the exhibit’s central themes of race, immigration, and power in the U.S. Horse racing is a useful site of analysis not only because a high number of Latinos work in the equine industry but also because it is a profession in which Latinos have experienced success at the highest echelons of the sport. The project’s use of sports as a source, and plans for broadly disseminating results, are avenues for encouraging and supporting diverse career pathways for PhDs within and outside the academy.

Associate Professor, History, University of South Carolina  -  Jockeying Into Position: Race, Ethnicity, and the Rise of the Latino Jockey in the American South, XX-XXI Centuries
Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum

Sherwin Keith Bryant
Sherwin Keith Bryant  |  Abstract
Long before it was the site of a race massacre in 1898, Wilmington, North Carolina was a slave society. Situated along the Cape Fear River, the town emerged in tension with local indigenous polities and on the backs of enslaved Africans. Their lives and labor gave the area a distinct social and economic character marked by the production of rice, indigo, lumber, and naval stores. Racial slavery in Brunswick county helped to sustain the colonial port as Wilmington grew in size and significance at the same time that Africans and their descendants created lives and cultures that challenged white settler colonial aspirations. Their resistance, flight, and built environments counter modern attempts to forget and erase their heritage. In collaboration with the African American Heritage Foundation of Southeastern North Carolina, this multi-tiered research project will archive and make visible histories of Black Brunswick county from the late eighteenth century to the present. This project engages local research on rice cultivation, area Gullah-Geechee heritage, Black schooling projects, and Reaves Chapel, a Civil War-era church built by the enslaved along the banks of the river. The project includes co-produced research with community members and public dialogues. It culminates in a digital archive that will form the basis for a scholarly monograph and a local Black history museum at the Cedar Hill African American Heritage Park, near the proposed site of the restored Reaves Chapel. This project’s use of community-driven research agendas from its inception offers new approaches to graduate training while providing new possibilities for redefining “public humanities”.

Associate Professor, African American Studies, Northwestern University  -  Just Beyond the River: The African American Heritage Foundation of Southeastern North Carolina and the Cedar Hill Heritage Park, A Black Public Humanities Initiative
African American Heritage Foundation of Southeastern North Carolina

Stacie E. McCormick
Stacie E. McCormick  |  Abstract
“Notes on Creating Livable Futures" examines the role of storytelling in reproductive justice work. It explores how Black women in their creative and critical writing, oral storytelling, and performance represent traumatic experiences of pregnancy and childbirth while also imagining just futures. Designed in collaboration with Marsha Jones and The Afiya Center team in Dallas, TX, this project advances conversations central to reproductive justice: the right not to have children, and the right to give birth and raise children with dignity and care. During the fellowship year, this project will draw on various modes to engage with communities of Black women and girls in the North Texas area as well as share this work publicly through venues such as: symposia, performance, and storytelling circles, much of which will be preserved in a digital archive. The Afiya Center serves as an integral space for this work given their commitment to undoing reproductive oppression through their advocacy for Black women and girls with regard to sexual and reproductive health. In addition to this public-facing scholarship, this project will highlight the value of the humanities in responding to critical issues of our time, and to guide PhD students toward career options that perform this work in deeper ways.

Associate Professor, English, Texas Christian University  -  Notes on Creating Livable Futures: Black Motherhood, Medical Inhumanity and Reimagining Care
The Afiya Center

Ashley Coleman Taylor
Ashley Coleman Taylor  |  Abstract
For decades Atlanta, Georgia has been a southern hub for queer and trans individuals seeking liberation through social justice work and community building. Nicknamed the “black mecca” and later the “black gay mecca,” the LGBT legacy is embedded in Atlanta’s history as a southern center for civil rights advocacy, social movement building, and political change. This project redresses racist and homophobic practices of erasure through queer oral histories that center the creative strategies of resistance and social justice activism of Black LGBT elders in the Atlanta area. It features geospatial digital humanities components alongside oral histories and participant observation. “Atlanta as Black Queer Place” is in conjunction with Counter Narrative Project, an organization committed to shifting “narratives about Black gay men to change policy and improve lives.” Both the project and CNP remain committed to highlighting and amplifying the voices of Black LGBT people in the southern metropolis. Additionally, this work demonstrates the profound importance of university/community collaborations; it further supports ongoing efforts at the University of Texas to help doctoral students gain the knowledge, training, and expertise needed to explore diverse career options.

Assistant Professor, Religious Studies and Women's and Gender Studies, University of Texas at Austin  -  Atlanta As Black Queer Place
Counter Narrative Project

Tiara R. Na'puti
Tiara R. Na'puti  |  Abstract
Pacific Islands like Guam/Guåhan are enduring unprecedented storms, droughts, coral bleaching, and threats of sea level rise that impact Pacific peoples and cultures. This project is working to help the Guåhan community address the urgent challenges of climate change and democratic governance in relation to the island’s political status. In collaboration with the Guåhan-based community organization Independent Guåhan (IG)—a community group committed to educating the public about the benefits and freedoms of sovereignty for the island—this project focuses on climate, governance, and culture to create sustainable solutions. Working with Independent Guåhan, this project is also expanding political programming, creating educational resources and curriculum about sovereignty and climate change, and publishing an edited volume addressing Indigenous issues and urgent community challenges in the Mariana Islands archipelago brought about by the island’s political status. This project will also establish an IG internship program for students at the University of Guam and doctoral students at the University of California, Irvine who are interested in the public humanities. Overall, it is expanding opportunities for the community to understand the timely and interconnected issues of both climate change and sovereignty and to develop solutions for sustainable futures for the archipelago.

Assistant Professor, Communication, University of Colorado, Boulder  -  Sovereignty & Climate Change in Guåhan: Creating Sustainable Futures
Independent Guåhan

Eric Corbett
Eric Corbett  |  Abstract
AI systems are improving public service delivery and government operations, but not without raising concerns with equity, accountability, and transparency. To address these social justice challenges, many have started to demand that public officials provide opportunities for public engagement with the design and use of AI systems in government. Yet few case studies exist on how to do public engagement with AI systems. Building from an ongoing partnership between Queens Public Library and New York University, this project will address this challenge for democratic governance by conducting a systematic analysis of existing public engagement methods in AI and providing an original case study of public engagement in AI from New York City.

Postdoctoral Scholar, Center for Urban Science and Progress, New York University  -  Democratizing AI: Towards Robust Engagement in Public Sector AI Use
Queens Public Library

Sandra Ristovska
Sandra Ristovska  |  Abstract
From cell phone footage to police body cameras, today’s courts increasingly rely on video as evidence. Yet the US legal system lacks clear standards and measures on how to assess video evidence. As a result, judges, lawyers, and jurors treat video in highly varied ways that can lead to an unequal and unfair rendering of justice. This publicly engaged research project incorporates a media studies lens to examine how and to what ends video shapes the pursuit of justice in court. In partnership with the Scientific Evidence Committee of the Science and Technology Law Section of the American Bar Association, it methodically tracks the use of video as evidence in state and federal court trials in criminal, immigration, and American Indian law (1990-2020). The core argument is that without systematic guidance to inform how video evidence is assessed under the law in criminal and civil matters, civil liberties and human rights are disproportionately recognized and upheld. The overarching goal of the partnership is thus twofold—to provide a basis for much-needed unified standards and applications for treating video as evidence and to open a new realm of PhD career pathways that leverage visual analysis into various law and policy domains.

Assistant Professor, Media Studies, University of Colorado, Boulder  -  Through the Lens of the Law: Interpreting Video Evidence in US Courts in the Digital Age
American Bar Association

Alexander L. Fattal
Alexander L. Fattal  |  Abstract
“Smart streetlights” in San Diego were billed as a way to save energy, but they doubled as 24-hour video feeds for the police. The cameras watched over immigrant and refugee neighborhoods, like City Heights, where the AjA Project—a media arts non-profit—teaches youth to narrate their lives through participatory photography. This project researches and supports AjA’s countersurveillance initiative, which entails teaching local youth coding skills to design their own image recognition algorithms and also oral history methods to conduct community-based research. The project will not only empower the youth but also render AjA’s archive more digitally agile and contextually rich. The archive will be the basis for large public art exhibits, creative backdrops for counter-surveillance and anti-racist programming. Working with the Democracy Lab in the Communication Department at UC San Diego, the project will foster collaboration between the AjA Project and graduate students at UCSD, offering training for graduate students who are honing their creative advocacy skills.

Assistant Professor, Communication, University of California, San Diego  -  Image, Code, Context: The AjA Project and Countersurveillance Activism in City Heights, San Diego
The AjA Project

Bianca C. Williams
Bianca C. Williams  |  Abstract
This partnership with Well-Read Black Girl (WRBG) focuses on the intergenerational communities of care and resistance Black women have built based on their shared love of reading and writing in the last decade (especially during the Movement for Black Lives). With over 350,000 members, WRBG aims to diversify the publishing industry by connecting editors with emerging Black writers, empowering Black women to use storytelling as a tool for activism, and educating the public on the meaning and value of Black literature through dynamic programming. This project celebrates the radical possibilities of this work, examining how storytelling and literature can be catalysts for care-centered community-building and organizing. Programming and collaborative writing throughout the fellowship will be guided by the exploration of the following questions: (1) How are Black women using Black women’s literature to create communities of care and political action in this era of anti-racist and feminist change? (2) How might these sites of reading and writing be transformative spaces of knowledge-making and pedagogical practice? (3) If we center Black women’s literature and its readers, how may this community of artists, activists, and scholars help us better understand conceptualizations of “public” and its racialized and gendered dimensions? The partnership with WRBG will document some of the spaces outside of higher education where Black women’s literature is leading people to engage in political change through Black feminist praxis, while also offering evidence that there are a variety of careers where Black women with graduate degrees are creating theoretical knowledge, teaching and communicating their research expertise, and engaging in life-long learning.

Associate Professor, Anthropology, City University of New York, The Graduate Center  -  AGENCY + CARE: Black Women's Literature and the Power of Well-Read Black Girl(s)
Well-Read Black Girl