The Mellon Foundation recognizes the need to fund these important programs...It's an experimental grant to explore a new way of thinking and working together.
- J.B. Shank, director of the Consortium and associate professor in the Department of History
Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New Ways of Thinking Together

Consortium for the Study of the Premodern World

A new confederation of University of Minnesota institutions is exploring innovative and multidisciplinary ways to approach graduate education about the premodern world.

With a generous start-up grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, University of Minnesota faculty and students across disciplines are brainstorming new programs for students interested in studying the deep past – including literature, art, religion, science, race, gender and empire.

The $600,000 Mellon Foundation grant, awarded to the College of Liberal Arts, will create a new Consortium for the Study of the Premodern World (CSPW). The Consortium seeks to promote integrated, multidisciplinary research and teaching in global premodern studies, and to unify established University humanities and social sciences departments with strong, pre-existing foundations in premodern studies.

"The Mellon Foundation recognizes the need to fund these important programs," says J.B. Shank, director of the Consortium and associate professor in the Department of History. "It's an experimental grant to explore a new way of thinking and working together."

The Consortium is currently in its exploratory phase, during which faculty and students are deliberating on how to define its mission and conceptual categories by discussing the value of "the premodern” as an analytical category, and by thinking globally about periodization and critiques of Eurocentrism and modernism. The Consortium -- which encompasses a variety of UMN programs and research centers, such as the Center for Early Modern History, the Center for Medieval Studies, the Institute for Global Studies, and the James Ford Bell Library -- also partners with libraries and colleges across the nation and world.

The Consortium will host weekly "Talking Terms" seminars at noon in the James Ford Bell Library in 2014-15. These faculty-led sessions focus on discussing the conceptual terms of the consortium, and upcoming experiments, such as graduate-level courses in Global Premodern Studies, which may debut as experimental courses in 2015-16, will also be discussed. 

In spring 2014, the Consortium funded 19 faculty and graduate student research projects on subjects relating to the premodern world, including premodern economy and moral philosophy, popular culture and media, premodern Germanic studies, the history of science, and the role of time in African history. Another round of workshop funding will be offered in May 2015. The Consortium has also hosted various events, including lectures on city views of China and Italy, medieval communication technologies, and seeing global history through a political lens.

The Consortium will begin to award Doctoral Dissertation Development Fellowships to promising students in spring 2016. After the initial exploratory phase ends in 2017, the consortium may eventually create a graduate minor in Global Premodern Studies, which would be one of the only programs of its kind in the world.

To attend an upcoming event or a weekly "Talking Terms” seminar or to find out more about the CSPW, go to https://premodern.umn.edu/

– Lyra Fontaine