In its first year, the 320 York Humanities Programming Endowment is funding three interdisciplinary projects that aim to bring together students and faculty members from across the University to engage with various topics in the humanities.

The endowment, which was created in 2016 through an anonymous $50 million gift, is also funding the transformation of the Hall of Graduate Studies into a hub for the humanities at Yale. The three faculty-led projects are the Yale Environmental Humanities Initiative, “3000 Years of Mexican Feasting” and “Black Sound and the Archive.” The inaugural cohort of grant winners, who were selected from 12 proposals in the spring, have already begun working on their two-year projects.

Faculty members interviewed said the grant is an indication of the University’s continued focus on the humanities, even in the midst of institutional efforts to strengthen the sciences.

“[The grant] seeks to support ambitious collaborative projects in the humanities, ones that might not otherwise garner support from traditional campus funding sources,” said grant winner Paul Sabin ’92, a history professor and the director of undergraduate studies for Environmental Studies. “The 320 York Humanities Grant program particularly aims to support initiatives that bridge teaching and research, and that connect many members of the community from across different departments and programs.”

Sabin helped spearhead the Yale Environmental Humanities Initiative, which aims to advance teaching and research at the intersection of the environment and humanities.

Since receiving the grant in May, Sabin said the initiative has already hosted an interdisciplinary conference featuring doctoral student presentations, created a new website, launched a weekly newsletter to publicize the over 30 events planned for the fall semester, organized two fall panels on the environmental humanities and created both a new graduate course for the spring and a graduate student working group.

“By launching the Environmental Humanities Initiative, we are asserting the importance of humanities perspectives to interpreting and giving meaning to the rapidly changing world around us,” Sabin said.

Music professor Brian Kane, who created “Black Sound and the Archive” alongside African American Studies professor Daphne Brooks, said the 320 York grant is unique because unlike other funding opportunities in the humanities, it is designated for long-term interdisciplinary projects as opposed to one-time conferences or speakers and requires that participating faculty members come from more than one academic department.

His project, which will explore archival audio material through frequent collaborative workshops open to undergraduates, graduate students and external faculty members, aims to create a community for exploring less traditionally studied archives while also bringing academics and practitioners to campus.

Kane said he hopes to hold an exhibition at the end of this academic year for participants to showcase performances and works, either their own or from the archives. Next year, he said, the program’s focus will grow more academic as people delve further into research and writing. The program hopes to ultimately publish a journal issue at the end of its second year, Kane added.

“We’ve already had one meeting,” he said of the first gathering of the working group, which 40 people attended. “It’s an amazing group of people, probably the most intellectually and demographically diverse group of people I’ve seen in one room at one time at Yale.”

The third grant winner is “3000 Years of Mexican Feasting,” a yearlong multidisciplinary graduate seminar dedicated to exploring the science, archaeology, social life, literature, art and commerce of food in Mesoamerica.

The seminar, led by anthropology professor Oswaldo Chinchilla and art professor and former Yale College Dean Mary Miller, will be accompanied by public culinary events co-sponsored by Yale Dining and visiting chefs.

The 320 York St. renovation is in the design development stage, according to Dean of Humanities Amy Hungerford. She added that the renovation of the Hall of Graduate Studies will begin in the early summer of 2018 and is expected to take about 20 months to complete.

Hungerford said Yale remains a “powerhouse” in the humanities, with a higher proportion of humanities majors than any of its peer institutions. She added that history was the most popular major for sophomores last spring as they declared their majors, confirming that humanities enrollments are strong.

“Challenges are certainly palpable at the national level, especially in the academic job market for humanities graduate students, but the intellectual life of the humanities on campus is thriving,” Hungerford said.

The Hall of Graduate Studies was designed by architect James Gamble Rogers, class of 1889, in 1932.

Rachel Treisman | rachel.treisman@yale.edu | @rachel_treisman