Mellon Foundation Funds the 4Humanities “WhatEvery1Says” Project

4Humanities is happy to announce that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has provided $1.1 million in funding for the WhatEvery1Says (WE1S) project for three years, beginning October 1, 2017. Based at University of California, Santa Barbara, with partners at California State University, Northridge, and University of Miami, the WE1S project investigates how the news media and other public sources portray the humanities. (See the UCSB news release on the Mellon award.) The project uses machine learning methods to analyze public discourse on the humanities at large data scales. (UCSB announcement) (Project Prospectus)

The project’s hypothesis is that digital methods can help us learn new things about how news media sources portray the humanities. For example, are there sub-themes beneath the familiar dominant clichés and memes? Are there hidden connections or mismatches between the “frames” (premises, metaphors, and narratives) of those arguing for and against the humanities? How do different parts of the world or different kinds of sources compare in the way they think about the humanities? Instead of concentrating on set debates and well-worn arguments, can we exploit new approaches or surprising commonalities to advocate for the humanities in the 21st century?

Another core mission of the WE1S project is to study the way racial, ethnic, gender, first-generation student and other groups are positioned by the media, or position themselves in the media, in relation to the humanities. For example, how do mainstream media position students and others from particular groups relative to the humanities? How do media articles by or addressed specifically to such groups compare with mainstream media in how they depict this relationship? In what ways does public opinion about the very ideal of “diversity and inclusion” correlate with public opinion about the humanities?

WE1S hopes to use its findings to provide advocates for the humanities with strategies and materials for effective communication about the value of humanistic study and knowledge – with narratives, arguments, scenarios, and evidence that advance, rather than simply react to, public conversation on the place of the humanities in today’s world.

In the process of its work, the project is also developing tools and guidelines to create an open, generalizable, and replicable digital humanities methodology. These include a manifest schema for data-provenance and processing-steps tracking, an integrated workflow management and virtual environment, and a topic-model interpretation protocol. WE1S will make these tools available to other digital humanists engaged in research involving machine learning at large scales.

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