Share this:
03/05/2002 08:00:00

Grants Strengthen Ties and Scholarship between Caltech and Huntington Library

PASADENA, Calif.— The history of the American West, the immigrant experience of Asian Americans, and the volatile years of the British Romantic period are some of the diverse areas of study that will soon be undertaken by the California Institute of Technology, thanks to a $440,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will support four new postdoctoral positions.

In addition, a second grant from the Foundation, for $90,000, will support two seminars that will challenge and spark young scholars in the humanities. The teaching and research efforts of both will be undertaken by a collaboration between Caltech and the Huntington Library, located less than a mile away in San Marino, and will move humanities-related research and teaching forward in a number of new directions.

"Thanks to the generosity and vision of the Mellon Foundation, these new seminars and postdoctoral positions will allow us to further the exciting collaboration between two extraordinary research institutions," explains William Deverell, an associate professor of history at Caltech and the chair of the Caltech Huntington Committee for the Humanities.

The four new appointments will conduct original research and teach in the following fields:

—The Romantic period in British literature. The revolutionary years around 1800, says Caltech's Kevin Gilmartin, an associate professor of literature, were marked by an almost unprecedented intersection of the forces of historical and cultural change in Britain. The young scholar appointed in this field will conduct research in the Huntington's extensive sources devoted to Romantic poetry and fiction, as well as its deep holdings in such materials as Romantic period broadsides, prints, and political satire.

—Asian American history. The scholar appointed to this position will work with a body of material pertaining to the history of Asian migration to the Pacific Coast, as well as related materials addressing Asian American naturalization and citizenship. "Asian American studies is one of the most vibrant areas of American historical inquiry," says Deverell, "and we are particularly excited about welcoming a junior colleague in this field to our group."

—The history of gardens. The new postdoctoral fellow in this field will take advantage of the library's extensive holdings to investigate the natural and cultural histories of gardening, plant cultivation, and species differentiation in both the Old and New Worlds. "The Huntington is not only one of the great botanical gardens of the world," Deverell explains. "The institution's photograph, book, and manuscript collections are also rich sources for study of this fascinating topic."

—The history of the American West. "The Huntington's collections in this field are, again, unparalleled," says Deverell. "We expect to bring in a young scholar whose research would be well served by these collections in print, manuscript, and visual documentation, and in turn we expect that their research and teaching will inform our undergraduates pursuing their Caltech humanities coursework."

The Caltech Huntington Committee for the Humanities (CHCH) will oversee the new postdoctoral program. The CHCH is an "intellectual partnership," says Deverell, that designs and implements collaborative research, teaching, and scholarly programs between the humanities faculty at Caltech and curators from the rare books, manuscripts, and art divisions at the Huntington.

The interpretive seminars will strengthen this scholarship as well, combining the expertise of scholars from both institutions with the rich resources of the Huntington. One seminar, "British Literature and Society in the 1790s", will be taught by Caltech's Gilmartin and Saree Makdisi of the University of Chicago. The second, "Power, Text, and Community in Medieval Europe," will be taught by Caltech's Warren Brown, an assistant professor of history, and Jason Glenn of the University of Southern California.

The history of the Huntington Library—home to such renowned works as the illuminated manuscripts of William Blake, one of the two earliest surviving manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales, and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, circa 1455—has always been intertwined with that of Caltech. In the early twentieth century, George Ellery Hale, who was instrumental in shaping Caltech out of Throop Institute, helped convince railroad magnate and bibliophile Henry E. Huntington to keep his renowned book, art, and manuscript collection in Southern California. Hale believed the two institutions could work in tandem as research institutions of higher learning. Huntington founded his library, art gallery, and botanical gardens in 1919; it was opened to the public in 1928.

"Through programs like these," Deverell suggests, "our small group of humanities scholars can continue to pursue research and teaching at the very highest scholarly levels. This partnership benefits all involved: our faculty, our postdoctoral fellows, and our students. We are exceedingly grateful to the Mellon Foundation and our colleagues at the Huntington Library for their invaluable help in making all this possible.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation makes grants in six core areas: higher education, museums and art conservation, performing arts, population, conservation and the environment, and public affairs. More information about the Foundation and its activities is available on its website: