University of Houston wins $750,000 Mellon Foundation grant for unique program

“I am excited to see that the work done through both Arte Público Press and the Recovery program is coalescing into something that is one-of-a-kind in this country."


A $750,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been awarded to the University of Houston to establish a first-of-its-kind U.S. Latino Digital Humanities Program in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. The program will give scholars expanded access to a vast collection of written materials produced by Latinos and archived by the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literacy Heritage (“Recovery”) program and UH’s Arte Público Press, the nation’s largest publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by Hispanic authors from the United States.


Gabriela Baeza Ventura, associate professor of Hispanic literature, and Carolina Villarroel, Brown Foundation director of research for Arte Público Press, will oversee the grant. The new program will produce digital scholarship opportunities and projects based on the hundreds of thousands of available written works authored by Latinos from colonial times until 1960.


The grant provides opportunities for these scholars to use computational tools such as data curation, visualization, spatial analysis, and metadata creation to discover new knowledge from the materials located by the Recovery program. The program has digitized hundreds of thousands of documents once at risk of being lost forever—from books and newspapers to manuscripts and personal papers—and made them available for international distribution. Specifically, the grant provides funding to:


  • Hire a postdoctoral fellow on U.S. Latino digital humanities

  • Develop a digital publication capacity

  • Offer competitive grants-in-aid scholarships for scholars to come to UH and conduct research as part of the program over the next two years


“It’s hard to imagine this program coming out of any other city, especially with the work that Arte Público Press has been doing over the last forty years,” said Baeza Ventura, who also serves as executive editor of Arte Público Press. “Just through social media, we have heard from a number of people who recognize the value of this project as a means to document the presence of Latinas and Latinos within the community.”


“This program is the first-of-its-kind in the country, and we’re grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its vision and supportive funding for this program,” added Villarroel. “We have seen the need for more scholarship and training on the intersection of digital humanities and ethnic studies. There is an increased interest from students, scholars, and community members to learn how to access and learn from these hundreds of thousands of texts and make it part of the curriculum.”


The Mellon Foundation has been critical in establishing programs aimed at connecting Houstonians with their Hispanic heritage, providing past support towards the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage program and Arte Público Press. With funding from a planning grant from the foundation, Baeza Ventura and Villarroel have spent the last two years studying other digital humanities centers focused on ethnic projects. The two have also formed partnerships with UH Libraries and other groups, both on- and off-campus, in their efforts to launch the U.S. Latino Digital Humanities Program.


“The recent grant from the Mellon Foundation will assist the University of Houston tremendously as it continues to be a leader in recovering and preserving the rich literary heritage of U.S. Hispanic authors through Arte Público Press,” said Antonio Tillis, dean of the UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. “This grant will enable furthering the mission of highlighting contemporary creative works that tell the unique stories of migration, transnationalism and nationalisms.”


Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, noted that UH is uniquely positioned to support the effort. “It’s impossible to separate UH from the surrounding area, and through this grant, we are further shedding light on the unique histories of our city’s inhabitants,” said Short. “I am excited to see that the work done through both Arte Público Press and the Recovery program is coalescing into something that is one-of-a-kind in this country. We are giving our students a chance to see themselves, the university, and the city of Houston in a new light.”


The grant counts toward the “Here, We Go” Campaign, the University of Houston’s first major systemwide fundraising campaign in more than twenty-five years.