Find Support and Mentorship for Public Humanities Projects

Written by
Alliya Dagman

May 10, 2024

May 10, 2024 • by Alliya Dagman

If you’re a graduate student interested in pursuing public humanities scholarship, the MLA invites you to apply for its Public Humanities Incubator program. The program was initiated in 2021 as a professional development opportunity to support graduate students who wanted to reimagine their research for and with publics beyond the academy. Interest in the emerging field of public humanities continues to grow: over two thousand public humanities projects from higher education institutions across the United States were gathered by the National Humanities Alliance through a nationwide survey in 2017–18 and showcased as part of the initiative Humanities for All. This evolving archive not only highlights the stunning range of audiences and collaborators engaged with the field but also offers a helpful typology for what engagement might look like: outreach, programming, research, teaching, and infrastructural revision. While these projects are infinitely varied in form, their shared purpose is clear from the archive’s name: each recognizes the value and necessity of humanities education as a public good—one that must be made accessible.

In keeping with the aims of the MLA’s Guidelines for Evaluating Publicly Engaged Humanities Scholarship in Language and Literature Programs, the incubator and other MLA programming seek to expand the definition of scholarship beyond traditional academic genres like the journal article and the scholarly monograph. The incubator pairs twelve participants with mentors active in the public humanities, with the goal of helping participants envision their research as contributions to public humanities scholarship. Participants are asked to imagine audiences and impact, form and dissemination, collaboration and partnerships, and project life cycle. As a cohort of humanities scholars and practitioners with common goals, participants also receive peer mentorship and forge a strong sense of community. They present their projects at the MLA Annual Convention, and they are also honored at the convention’s awards ceremony. Detailed information on the application process, selection criteria, and experiences of past mentees can be found on the MLA website. Apply now to join a growing community of scholars bringing together diverse publics through their inspiring and innovative projects!

The mentors for the 2024–25 application cycle have a broad array of experiences with and expertise in the public humanities. Sarah Buchmeier, Mellon Fellow at Lowell National Historical Park, uses close reading practices as well as writing and communication strategies to craft the stories inherent in National Park Service sites and to bring communities into critical engagement with these stories. Adam Capitanio is director of programs at Humanities New York, where he oversees the Reading and Discussion program and the university partnership Humanities Centers Initiative and develops and executes signature events across New York State, including the biannual showcase “The American Imagination.” Stacie McCormick is associate professor of English, comparative race and ethnic studies, and women and gender studies at Texas Christian University, where she is also codirector of the African American and Africana studies minor and emphasis. In addition to her scholarship on Black drama and performance, she researches and writes on corporeality, visuality, and life-writing in Black women’s expressive culture. Katherine Trostel, associate professor and chair of English and humanities at Ursuline College, leads an NEH-funded interdisciplinary curricular initiative, the Rust Belt Humanities Lab, that trains undergraduates in public humanities methods—emphasizing digital skills, mapping, and storytelling—in order to analyze the history of the Rust Belt and address its social challenges.

The Public Humanities Incubator has witnessed a remarkable range of projects in its iterations thus far, some of which are listed below. The complete list of past projects can be found on MLA Commons.

2022 Incubator

  • Angela D. Mack, Texas Christian University, mentored by Christina Lux, Center for the Humanities, University of California, Merced. Project: A storytelling project centered on Black lived experience in 76104 (Fort Worth, TX)
  • Alison Maas, University of California, Davis, mentored by Jorge Marcone, Rutgers University. Project: A blue humanities digital mapping project depicting narratives of retreat from coastal crisis
  • David Duncan, University of California, Santa Cruz, mentored by Michael A. Smith, The Fine Foundation. Project: A podcast on the history of desegregation in Bay Area schools
  • Hai In Jo, Texas A&M University, College Station, mentored by Colleen Tripp, California State University, Northridge. Project: A digital project documenting the lives of enslaved people in Brazos, TX

2023 Incubator

  • Sydney Schmidt, University of Wyoming, mentored by Sarah Buchmeier, Lowell National Historical Park. Project: Continuation of recovery work and digital migration for the Rebecca Harding Davis Archive
  • kay kemp, Columbia University, mentored by Darryl Dickson-Carr, Southern Methodist University. Project: A listening group combining music education in jazz and literary studies for public high school students in South Harlem
  • Yassine Ait Ali, Princeton University, mentored by Valerie Popp, New Jersey Council of the Humanities. Project: Expanding and recalibrating the Princeton French Film Festival for its second year
  • BK Clapham, University of Colorado, Boulder, mentored by Michael A. Smith, The Fine Foundation. Project: Modern Day Maroons Video Project (MDMVP), a research and archive initiative to collect, preserve, digitize, and exhibit the home videos made by Black residents of the Mountain West