Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Gives $850,000 to University Press and iSchool Initiatives

Issue Date: 
April 6, 2009

The University of Pittsburgh has received two grants totaling $850,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The first grant, for $750,000, will support the University of Pittsburgh Press for a book publishing initiative undertaken in partnership with Pitt’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science and the history department’s World History Center. The second grant, for $100,000, will benefit the Summer Institutes on Graduate Study in Information Sciences, an annual program administered by Pitt’s School of Information Sciences (iSchool) to recruit graduate students and faculty members from underrepresented groups to the field of information sciences.

The grant will help the Press build a publishing program in the history of science, increasing its overall output of books on all subjects from about 50 titles per year to more than 70. The Department of History and Philosophy of Science will establish a lecture series and a new fellowship program, as well as a prize for outstanding new scholarship. The World History Center will create a postdoctoral fellowship and host a series of conferences on science in global history.

The University developed the joint initiative in response to an invitation from the Mellon Foundation, which provides support for projects that encourage the strengthening of links between university presses and their parent institutions, as well as the promotion of new scholarship.

“Pitt’s longstanding strength in the history and philosophy of science and the more recent launching of the world history program reflect our ongoing commitment to scholarship that is both historically and globally informed,” said Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor James V. Maher. “The University Press, the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, and the World History Center have together developed an outstanding proposal for a collaboration that will bring these fields together in a truly creative way.”

In pursuing the grant, the Press and its partners noted that the study of the history of science is enhanced by interaction with other fields and that the humanities offer crucial insights into understanding science.

The Department of History and Philosophy of Science, a renowned academic program within Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, focuses on the conceptual and methodological foundations of science and emphasizes the connections between the history and the philosophy of science. According to James Lennox, Pitt professor of history and philosophy of science, “This exciting initiative will allow Pitt to explore a number of new avenues of research related to the historical development of the global reach of science and the impact of science on cross-cultural interactions.”

The history department established the World History Center to foster research that emphasizes broad historical patterns that cut across national and even civilizational boundaries, identifies transcultural influences, and challenges Western-centric concepts of history.

“This initiative provides a wonderful opportunity to explore the global connections in scientific thinking and practice from the medieval era to recent times” said Patrick Manning, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of World History and the center’s director.

“We consider this area of scholarship to be rich in possibilities,” said Cynthia Miller, director of the University of Pittsburgh Press, “In building a history of science program, we envision an active collaboration between the faculty from these departments and Press staff that will encourage the cross-fertilization of ideas and research, as well as producing books.”

The grant to the iSchool will be used to support a series of yearly institutes that focus on promising juniors and seniors in college who demonstrate strong potential to earn doctoral degrees and become faculty members in information sciences.

Students pursing master’s and PhD degrees continue to be underrepresented in the nation’s information schools, including Pitt’s iSchool. The institutes will engage Pitt and the two other Pennsylvania-based iSchools (Penn State and Drexel universities) to design and build an annual series of cohort-based initiatives that identify, recruit, and mentor underrepresented students for graduate studies and nurture their academic growth, culminating in faculty positions in higher education.

“The nation’s information profession needs a workforce representative of its diversity,” said Ronald L. Larsen, dean and professor in Pitt’s iSchool. “Development of this workforce requires faculty who, likewise, reflect the nation’s diversity. With the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, our school is poised to launch a long-term program designed to educate the next generation of scholars, leaders, and researchers to bring the diversity of culture, experience, and perspective to the education of information professionals. Our goal is to recruit and mentor PhD students who demonstrate leadership and who represent the diverse society we have become in North America.”

The project will draw on the many resources available at the University, including the University Library System, the African American Alumni Council, the Center on Race and Social Problems, and the Black Action Society. The Mellon grant will support the planning needed to implement the series of institutes.

SIS is nationally recognized as a leading school in scholarly research and communications and is a founding member of the iSchool Consortium, which comprises 19 leading information sciences institutions, including the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Michigan. Since 1979, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has donated more than $10 million to Pitt in support of research in the humanities. (Peter Kracht and Kelly Shaffer also contributed to this article.)