New Mellon Initiatives Explore Global Borders and Indian Ocean Worlds

The UC Davis Humanities Institute is pleased to announce the selection of two new Mellon Research Initiatives in the Humanities: Comparative Border Studies: Rights, Containment, Protest and Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds to begin in the fall of 2015.

David Biale, director of the Davis Humanities Institute, said the “process of selecting the new Mellon Research Initiatives brought forward seven highly competitive proposals. It was gratifying to see how the very process got people thinking in new, interdisciplinary directions.”

Biale explained that the two successful initiatives – Comparative Border Studies and Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds – “draw on faculty from a wide variety of fields who might not have thought to come together without this funding. We look forward not only to highly stimulating discussions on these important issues but also to the ways that they may change their respective fields beyond our campus.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation last spring renewed its commitment to the Mellon Research Initiatives program at UC Davis with $1.725 million award to fund four initiatives over six years. Another round of proposals will be considered in 2016 to launch in the fall of 2017.

A Mellon Research Initiative is an intense and focused exploration, over a three-year period, of a particular topic of great institutional importance. Each initiative receives funding for three years of programming, a two-year Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor, director’s compensation, and support for graduate recruitment and research. The two initiatives have the remainder of the 2014-2015 academic year to plan and recruit their visiting assistant professor and graduate students.

Comparative Border Studies: Rights, Containment, Protest

The Comparative Border Studies Initiative, led by co-directors Professor Sunaina Maira of Asian American Studies and Professor Robert Irwin of Spanish and Portuguese and chair of the Cultural Studies Graduate Group, calls for a renewed and reoriented cross-regional approach to borders in the contemporary global dynamic.

The proposal explains that the traditional critical tools of North American border studies seem inadequate in a contemporary moment marked by “heightened militarization, vigilantism, violent crime, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and government corruption,” and border studies would benefit from “an infusion of ideas from scholars working on Asia, Africa, and Europe where these issues have been central.”

According to Maira and Irwin, the initiative has two major goals: “first, to respond to the urgent need for comparative conversations about the question of borders and to interrogate the production, deployment and evasion of regional and geographic categories; and second, to bridge scholarship in area studies and ethnic studies, fields that should be in closer conversation with one another given the realities of transnationalism and the transnationalizing of these fields.”

Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds

Building on an existing Davis Humanities Institute research cluster, this initiative led by co-directors Smriti Srinivas, Professor of Anthropology, and Bettina Ng’weno, Associate Professor of African American and African Studies, shifts the conversation about Indian Ocean Studies “away from historical studies of trade, migration, diasporas and religion” and instead “formulates new directions for the field due to its emphasis on the contemporary, place-making, new networks, and quotidian practices.”

Srinivas and Ng’weno said that the Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds Initiative “aims to produce long lasting, multi-year interest and capacity at UC Davis to become a hub for rethinking the scope of emerging Indian Ocean Studies.” They are “excited about the possibility of formulating new directions for the field” based in the group’s multi-disciplinary research interests.

Stay connected to these new Mellon Research Initiatives through the UC Davis Humanities Institute website and look for event and research programming in the fall of 2015.


– Stephanie Maroney, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies