Author Archive for Rachel Reeves

Update: Public Scholar Publishes in Boom California

“Danza de Los Superhéroes: Zapotec Immigrant Tradition in Transnational Transfer”

This is the title of Leopoldo Peña’s new article in the online journal Boom California. Leopoldo joined our Public Scholars cohort from UC Irvine this year.

He describes this project as “the result of combining research, photography and community involvement…and it gives hope I can continue doing public scholarship along my personal interests and in service to the communities I relate to.”

His Public Scholars project extends these interests into the museum setting. He is currently working with the Laguna Art Museum to coordinate an installation by Mexican artist, Pablo Vargas Lugo. He works closely with the artist, the education curator and a group of naval engineers, who are designing the piece.

“It is a good experience for me, the whole process is new and allows me to venture outside a strictly academic setting. Thus far, I have also linked the art education non-profit I work with in Los Angeles with the educational department at the museum. I am hoping something productive will turn out from this.”

Credit: Leopoldo Peña

Angel Sáncez, as Captain America, and Antonio Mazas, as Holk, take a break between performances during the annual celebration of the Yalalag community in Los Angeles

FAQ: Mellon Public Scholars Program 2017

Frequently Asked Questions


So you want to apply to the Mellon Public Scholars Program. Great! Below we have answered some of our frequently asked questions. Please also take a look at our call for proposals and contact our program manager, Rachel Reeves with any questions:


Applications are due January 4, 2017 by 5pm PST.


Who is eligible?

We are accepting applications from PhD and MFA students in the Arts, Humanities, Humanistic Social Sciences, and other humanities-based disciplines. The proposed projects must address the arts or humanities in some significant way.

Should our community partners be limited to a certain geographical region?

Community-based projects can be in any geographical location. Last year we had projects in Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, Guatemala, and Ecuador, as well as Sacramento, Oakland, and Guerneville in California.

Can I work with an on-campus community partner?

We will consider on-campus partners, but keep in mind that the purpose of original grant was to give graduate students experience working with non-university community partners.

Do I need a letter from my proposed community partner?

You do not need a letter from your proposed community partner. If you have been in conversation with a potential partner and have their support, do mention it in the proposal. We expect that these relationships will develop and change over the course of the program.

Do I need a letter from my academic advisor? From my proposed faculty mentor?

You do not need a letter of rec from your academic advisor. Feel free to mention potential faculty mentors in your proposal. One advantage of the program is access to the Davis Humanities Institute’s extensive network of potential mentors.

When does the Spring Seminar meet?

We will meet on Thursday afternoon from 2-4pm in the DHI conference room (Voorhies 228).

Can I apply for more than one pre-established project?

We ask that you apply only for the pre-established project that best suits your background and interests. You may, however, apply to carry out both one pre-established project and one project of your own design. A separate application is required for each project.

Is a budget required?

We do not require a budget.

What is the workload expectation during the summer project?

We offer the guideline of 20 hours per week for two months, but understand that this work will be negotiated between you and your community partner.

For what may the funds be used?

These funds are intended to provide your basic support. There is no requirement that the funds be used for the project.

What division do I mark on the application site? HArCS or DSS?

Mark the correct division for the department in which you are enrolled. We ask that all others mark themselves as DSS.


Update: Interactive Map of Akwesasne Mohawk Territory

From 2016 Public Scholar, Loren Michael Mortimer

Niawen: Saying Thank You

For Mohawks, the importance of history begins with the Ohenten Kariwatekwen. While Ohenten Kariwatekwen translates into English as “The Thanksgiving Address,” the literal Mohawk rendering means “the thing we say before everything else.” When Mohawks recite this ancient greeting, they express gratitude to one another and the Creator. Mohawks start the Ohenten Kariwatekwen with an acknowledgement of the people and their history, “we who have gathered together are responsible that our cycle continues. We have been given the duty to live in harmony with one another and other living things. We give greetings that our people still share the knowledge of our culture and ceremonies and are able to pass it on.” As a historian and Mellon Public Scholar, an academic charged with community-based work, I took this as my mission statement as I set out to Akwesasne Mohawk Territory over the summer of 2016.


img_7089Akwesasne Mohawk Territory is a vibrant Native American community on both sides of the US-Canada Border, with history stretching back more than 10,000 years. Unlike reservation lands in the western part of the United States, which are held in trust by the federal government, Akwesasne remains sovereign, unconquered Mohawk territory. The community’s diverse ancestry, ranging from the pre-contact Laurentians and Mohawk to Onondagas, Oneidas, and Wabanakis, reflects the land’s long history as a site of Native survival and revitalization for indigenous peoples residing in the St. Lawrence River Valley. Akwesasne’s unique location on the US-Canada Border, its unique ecology owing to its location on the confluence of four rivers into the St. Lawrence, the historic treaty obligations which govern indigenous mobility through their territory as well as across the border, and its history of activism centered on protecting these rights initially attracted my attention as a scholar of early American borderlands. I had travelled to this land on previous research trips. However, the Mellon Public Scholars Program enabled me to do work in the service of this community, which used my academic training and abilities in a mutually supportive alliance between a public university like UC Davis and Akwesasne Mohawk Territory.


Initially, I wanted to do a digital mapping project that made indigenous territory legible to the thousands of non-natives who passed through the community every day, both at the international border crossing and on the and on the main highways that run through the territory. Community interaction and engagement transformed the broad contours of the project into a final product that would be useful to the community and aligned with their priorities. Through a partnership with the Akwesasne Cultural Center and the cross-border Akwesasne Cultural Tourism Working Group (ATWG), the project evolved into the Experience Akwesane Interactive Map, which weaves the digital humanities with culturally-based economic development priorities. Working with the Akwesasne Cultural Center enabled me to draw on the museum’s rich collections in order to integrate linguistic, oral history, and visual media into the map, while collaboration with a transnational initiative like the ATWG engaged local leaders, artists, elders, and historians participated in the crafting of our broader narrative for both native and non-native audiences. Like one of the beautifully handcrafted baskets made at Akwesasne, the map intertwines locally sourced knowledge and stories into a compelling spatial narrative.


Community mapping entailed more than writing blurbs and scanning archival images. On any given day, had to learn linguistic nuances in Mohawk place names and correct miniscule errors in my HTML code which added up to major technical headaches. Rudimentary web development made me grateful that I was a historian and not a computer engineer. In addition to new technical literacies, I had to pay close attention to culturally sensitive landscapes and find consensus among diverse community perspectives as to which places should be featured on the map. Akwesasne is sanctified land and much that sacred geography is not meant for outsiders. However, not all of my work required me to be hunched over a laptop fixing broken links and cross-referencing historical maps. Some of the most enjoyable elements of the project entailed going out with members of the community to take digital pictures of the locations on the map, some of which were accessible only by boat. Some of the most frustrating work involved formatting those pictures so that people could browse on laptops, tablets, and mobile devices—the optimal aspect ratio for a web based image was not something I had considered before coming to Akwesasne. Along the way, I was overwhelmed with the community’s generosity and hospitality. Over the course of my stay at Akwesasne, collaborators and hosts had become new friends. From sharing stories and hearty laughter to candid discussions about the challenges facing the community, I am grateful that I had the chance to build this map one relationship at a time.

Although the summer has come to an end, the Mellon Public Scholars program has helped me strengthen longer term alliance between UC Davis and Akwesanse Mohawk Territory in the spirit of Kaswhenta, the nearly four-hundred-year-old Two Row wampum belt articulating a treaty relationship predicated on allyship between Mohawks and non-natives. Each of us has our distinct, parallel roles to play as we move independently down the “river of peace.” The Experience Akwesasne Interactive Map forms a link in a relationship that aligns my formal academic scholarship with the needs and priorities of a community my research hopes to serve. The insights and perspectives borne out of community collaboration have already enriched my own dissertation research, which I hope in turn tells the larger story of indigenous power and permanence in ancestral territory that helps Akwesasronon navigate the challenges and opportunities posed by decolonization and self-determination in the twenty-first century and for the next seven generations. In presenting a visual and spatial history of Akweasne that enables visitors to navigate Akwesasne’s unique human, ecological, and political geographies, I hope this interactive map reflects the living history embodied Ohenten Kariwatekwen.



Update: Voices from a Mexican Women’s Prison

Voices from a Mexican Women’s Prison (We Tell Our Stories Through these Walls)

Audrey Harris from UCLA sent in this update about her project:

This summer, I headed to the Yucatán to teach and document a creative writing workshop in the women’s area of a prison (known as a Cereso, or Center for Social Reinsertion) in Mérida, México.

Over the course of the two-month workshop, in which we read stories by Jorge Luis Borges and Sandra Cisneros, as well as Mayan folklore, it became clear to me that my students were gifted storytellers who shared a pressing desire to read, write, and make their stories known. The writings they began to produce express themes central to their status as prisoners: they speak of violence, injustice, homelessness and displacement, separation (particularly the wrenching separation between mother and child), loneliness, and social and economic marginalization.

In collaborative fashion, we workshopped their stories and at the end of August we turned them into a book, which we collectively titled Nos contamos a través de los muros (We Tell Our Stories Through these Walls), published by a local Mérida press. So far, the book has been presented at the Cereso de Mérida and at a community event at Apapacho Café in downtown Mérida. Plans are in the works for presentations this fall at the Festival Internacional de Lectura (FILEY) in Mérida and at UCLA’s Latin American Institute.


Through this project, I learned about the hard conditions surrounding prison life in Mexico, conditions which are shaped and determined long before any individual crime is committed. I also saw first-hand the value of literature and education as tools for building self-esteem and a supportive community within such an environment–essential ingredients for personal growth and transformation. Watching the determination with which my students wrote and rewrote their stories, seeing the joy on their faces when they received their books, and hearing the pride in their voices when they spoke of their accomplishment and looked forward to sharing it with their families, have provided some of the most gratifying moments of my academic career.

On behalf of myself and the women of the Cereso de Mérida, I send a heartfelt thank you to the Mellon Public Scholars program for supporting this project.

Here is a link to the blog I wrote over the course of the summer about the workshop. Photography by Albert Durán.

A video about the workshop:

For information about book or film presentations, please contact

Watch the DHI’s homepage for the 2016-17 Call for Proposals.

Update: The Maya Music Project

Two realizations brought Jared Katz to a central valley elementary school with a 3D printer and a handful of Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers:

First: Even though many school children in the U. S.  have family in Mesoamerica and South America, the history of Mayan, Incan, and Aztec cultures often takes a back seat to lessons on Greek, Egyptian, and Roman history.

Second: The closer he got to his goal of being an academic archaeologist, the fewer people he spoke to about his work.

Over the ten-week Public Scholars seminar he developed a hands-on, affordable, and replicable summer curriculum to introduce the history of ancient Mayan music and the practice of archaeology.

Take a look!


Check out our Blog and Scholars page to see what the rest of us are up to this summer!

Introducing the UC Davis Mellon Public Scholars Program

Across the country, humanities institutes are offering graduate students an opportunity to speak to the relationship between universities and their communities through public scholarship. Now’s the time for UC Davis to join the conversation.

We at the UC Davis Humanities Institute are excited to be launching the Mellon Public Scholars Program to address two related goals: to support community-engaged scholarship on campus and broaden the training and career opportunities for our PhD students.

UC Davis has a long history of addressing critical problems in our society. It was, in fact, after we had received the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of teaching that it became clear that we in the humanities and social sciences needed to reinforce the infrastructure to support such work, including graduate training. Meanwhile, for push and pull reasons, our PhD students think more and more broadly about their career trajectories and subsequently seek out diverse career experiences.

We had many models to draw from in developing the Public Scholars program. Since 2005, University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Public Humanities Exchange (HEX) has supported a select number of graduate student projects “outside the boundaries of academia.” HEX supports an hour per week of direct engagement with the community partner and a monthly workshop in which students share the excitement and tensions that arise in the course of their projects. The Obermann Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Iowa offers graduate students one- and three-week seminars on public engagement, during which students discuss theories of engaged scholarship and create a cohort of like-minded colleagues and mentors. At the end of these seminars, students present early plans for engaged projects. Brown University offers a master’s degree in public humanities that they have made available to their American Studies PhD students. Their curriculum includes courses in the theory of public humanities as well as hands-on learning opportunities.

All of these programs have in common a thoughtful combination of classroom and experiential learning to fulfill both needs: to strengthen and support public humanities or community-engaged research and diversify the career opportunities of our graduate students.

The Davis Humanities Institute’s Public Scholars Program draws on each of these successful models and adapts them to our unique strengths and needs. Our faculty-led seminar in spring introduces ten selected fellows to the intellectual and practical aspects of public scholarship. This seminar will include a number of guest speakers who demonstrate public humanities at work. With the guidance of the seminar leaders, their peers, and faculty mentors who receive research funds for their help, the fellows develop a collaborative project with a community partner. The Humanities Institute then supports the student for two months of intensive work experience with their community partner carrying out their project over the summer.

By combining an intensive seminar, training and planning period with a meaningful internship experience, our program offers students the theory, demonstration, and application of public scholarship. By including one-on-one faculty mentorship in to the programs design, we can create interdisciplinary research connections for students’ beyond their department and build on the engaged scholarship already happening at UC Davis. Our two-credit springtime seminar and summer project were designed to provide valuable exposure and work experience that can be integrated into the way we are already training graduate students in the humanities.

The very infrastructure of the program speaks to the needs of early-career humanities scholars – they hired me as their program manager as I was finishing my PhD in history, putting real trust and funding behind the claims that skills developed during a graduate program are valuable. The seminar leaders, staff, guest speakers, faculty mentors, community partners, and fellow public scholars themselves make up the beginnings of a powerful professional network upon which students can draw long after their fellowship is complete. On a larger scale, such relationships strengthen the university’s ties to our community and enhance the public profile of the humanities.

The overwhelming enthusiasm that has greeted this program demonstrates the demand for innovative graduate education that combines a commitment to rigorous scholarship with professional development for doctoral students. UC Davis graduate students filled our information sessions beyond capacity, dozens personally approached our Associate Director Molly McCarthy and myself for more information, and over sixty applied for the ten positions.

UC Davis faculty have offered their encouragement, insights, reading lists, community connections, and service on the program’s advisory board and selection committee. Community organizations have leapt at the opportunity to partner with humanities doctoral student researchers, including Yolo County Food Bank, the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, the California Energy Commission, Academics Without Borders USA, and the Sierra Health Foundation. Their enthusiasm signals the wealth of opportunity for humanities graduate students as close as we are to both Sacramento and the Bay Area.

But the UC Davis Public Scholars Program will also have an impact on graduate students across the UC system thanks to a grant sponsored by the UC Humanities Research Institute. In addition to the ten Public Scholars selected from UC Davis, the program will be joined by eight students from every other UC campus, except UCSF, who were selected by their humanities centers and institutes. After participating in the spring seminar, these other UC students will work with community organizations in their own areas.

This is a dynamic and developing program, and we welcome your feedback. Watch this space for further discussion about the promise and possibilities of public scholarship.