The Public Scholars Program reimagines, and reaffirms, what humanities centers can do.

-- David Biale, Former Director


“Mellon is dedicated to demonstrating the ways that teaching and scholarship can ultimately make contributions to public life.”

— Eugene Tobin, senior program officer in Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the UC Davis Humanities Institute $400,000 to inaugurate the Public Scholars Program, which supports community-engaged scholarship and provide experience for graduate students interested in diverse careers. The program was renewed and expanded in 2018 for another three years.

While other universities have developed public humanities programs and offer degrees or certificates in the public humanities, few combine the research-oriented goals of nurturing public scholarship with professional development for graduate students. The Public Scholars seminar at UC Davis provides students with training in areas such as project management, digital methods and communication at the same time they are developing new research skills.

Every year, the Mellon Public Scholars Program invites 12 graduate students in the arts, humanities and humanistic social sciences to participate in a quarter-long seminar in spring that introduces them to the intellectual and practical aspects of public humanities scholarship. Each student is paired with a faculty mentor to develop a community-based research project and spends the summer following the seminar working with the community partner they identify in their project.

Over 40 graduate scholars have participated in the Mellon Public Scholars Program at UC Davis, representing 12 department and programs. Their projects address issues and problems in history, education, incarceration, gentrification, citizenship, and much more.

In addition to the Public Scholars selected from UC Davis, the 2015-16 program was joined by eight students from every other UC campus, except UCSF, who were selected by their humanities centers and institutes. Their participation was made possible by the UC Humanities Research Institute. The award allowed the Mellon Public Scholars program to have an impact across California since the students, after participating in the spring 2016 Public Scholars seminar, worked with community organizations in their own areas.

The Davis Humanities Institute is also the home of the Mellon Research Initiatives in the Humanities, a program that supports interdisciplinary collaborations around societal issues such as social justice and environmental humanities. In 2014, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation renewed its commitment to the Mellon Research Initiatives in the Humanities with an additional $1.725 million grant that will support four new Mellon groups over the next seven years.

“The Public Scholars Program will take the Humanities Institute into new territory since it has the potential to foster innovation across the humanities at UC Davis. We’re especially excited and hopeful about this opportunity since it reimagines, and reaffirms, what humanities centers can do.”  

— David Biale, the Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor and former institute director