Northeastern receives Mellon Foundation grant to launch center for study of Boston

Originally published on News at Northeastern on May 1, 2018

Northeastern University has received a $200,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest funder of the humanities in the United States, to launch a new center dedicated to the study of Boston, enabling researchers from around the world to shed light on the city’s past, present, and future.

“Boston is a global city grounded in the past, thriving in the present and innovating for the future,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University. “The work of Northeastern researchers and scholars across the humanities, data sciences, and other fields will create unprecedented entry into more than a hundred years of legacy for many generations to come.”

Based in the Northeastern University library, the center will leverage Northeastern’s expertise at the cross-section of data-driven disciplines, including journalism, network science, and the digital humanities, and will draw on unique archival resources and data sets.

“The work of Northeastern researchers and scholars across the humanities, data sciences, and other fields will create unprecedented entry into more than a hundred years of legacy for many generations to come.”

Joseph E. Aoun President of Northeastern

At the new center, Northeastern students, scholars, and outside collaborators will work together to combine historical material and contemporary data in an effort to better understand the past and envision the future. The heart of the center will be a data unit, which will provide a secure but open venue for the storage, management, analysis, and visualization of a critical mass of public and proprietary data.

Northeastern’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, the university’s center for digital humanities and computational social science, and the Boston Area Research Initiative, a program aimed at spurring advanced research in the Greater Boston area that both advances scholarship and improves public policy, will also be part of the ongoing work of the center.

The solutions developed by the center will have global implications, as 54 percent of the world’s population currently lives in an urban environment.

“We deeply appreciate the Mellon Foundation’s generous support for this effort,” said Dan Cohen, dean of libraries and vice provost for information collaboration at Northeastern. “As a city that has been evolving over hundreds of years, Boston is incredibly rich in both history and data. We look forward to the insight that will come out of synthesizing the past and the present.”

Northeastern has a growing collection of valuable archives, including the collection of Boston-based resources, such as the complete archives of The Boston Phoenix, the Gay Community News, and the East Boston Community News. Housed in Northeastern’s library system, these resources solidify Northeastern’s position as the primary hub for researching the people, places, and institutions that have shaped Boston into one of the world’s most vibrant cities.

“The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports libraries in developing community-based archives for the 21st century, particularly those seeking to better engage their vibrant—though at times underrepresented—surrounding communities in documenting their histories and cultures, ” noted Patricia Hswe, program officer for scholarly communications at the Mellon Foundation.

The city of Boston dates back nearly four centuries, to the earliest era of the European colonization of the Americas. For researchers looking to understand topics ranging from spiritual history to population shifts to social integration to climate change, Boston provides an unrivaled trove of historical events and lessons for the world.

The Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for Humanities also announced last week that Northeastern University is one of seven institutions awarded funds to convert out-of-print humanities texts into ebooks. The funding will allow Northeastern University Press to digitize and create freely accessible ebooks for 18 books focusing on humanities titles on the history of Boston.

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