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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

English Professor Receives Mellon Foundation Grant

Chris Forster is the first professor at Syracuse University to be awarded the New Directions Fellowship.

April 2, 2020, by Dan Bernardi

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English Professor Chris Forster, recipient of the New Directions Fellowship from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Chris Forster, associate professor of English, is the recipient of the prestigious New Directions Fellowship from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He is the first Syracuse University faculty member to receive this award, which allows faculty members in the humanities and humanistic social sciences to pursue training outside their own areas of special interest. The program is intended to enable humanities scholars to delve deeply into problems that interest them most. The $149,000 award will allow Forster to broaden his skills as a computer programmer and translate that knowledge to his work with digital humanities.

Digital humanities is an emerging field that involves using computational tools for the analysis of humanities disciplines such as history, art, philosophy and literature. It is a two-sided approach, using digital technology to study things like literary trends and authorship while also applying humanities-related skills like critical thinking and interpretation to study the impact of digital culture.

Under the Mellon New Directions Fellowship, Forster will master software and programming languages, which will allow him to better develop arguments about texts from a statistical perspective. By extending his skills as a computer programmer, Forster will be able to enter emerging debates about how large text databases are reshaping the understanding of literature and its history. He will apply this first-hand technical knowledge with his students in the new Digital Humanities Integrated Learning Major (ILM). The ILM, which Forster helped to develop (and which he currently directs), allows students to creatively, critically and ethically explore the impact of digital technology.

In addition to extending his skills in computer programming, the fellowship will support both Forster’s attendance at the annual Digital Humanities conference organized by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) and visits with mentors who are established digital humanities scholars.

“The Mellon New Directions Fellowship allows me to secure the training necessary to make this element of my research more central to my future academic work,” says Forster. “I hope to contribute to the recent wave of debate about the ways that computers can augment and improve the study of literature and ensure that the reshaping of the study of literature in a digital age remains connected to its history.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seeks to strengthen, promote, and defend the centrality of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse, fair, and democratic societies. Their core programs support exemplary and inspiring institutions of higher education and culture.