Professors’ ambitious digital projects net 2017-18 Fenwick Fellows awards


For academic projects that make use of the growing field of digital scholarship, two researchers from George Mason University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences were recently named this year’s Fenwick Fellows. The award provides $5,000 to each winner as well as use of a fully equipped and furnished research office in Fenwick Library for one year.

Jennifer Ashley, assistant professor of global affairs, and Alok Yadav, associate professor of English, received the 2017-18 award for work that promises “to make excellent and mutually beneficial use of the libraries’ resources,” said John Zenelis, dean of libraries and university librarian. “Most especially of our newest program—the Digital Scholarship Center.”

Ashley’s research proposal, “The Political Afterlife of Chile’s 1988 Plebiscite,” is a retrospective analysis of the democracy campaign and the vote that removed Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from power. Ashley, who’s lived in Chile off and on for the last two decades, had touched on the topic in a book she’s writing. With the 30th anniversary of the vote  forthcoming, she decided to focus more intently on the issue by expanding from book form alone. Her work now brings together oral histories, interviews with activists and political leaders, and photos and video footage from the campaign.

Ashley said she was thrilled to receive the award, partly because it will allow her to do international research for the project. “To go back to Chile and do interviews and compile different archivable material—audiovisual, photographs and interviews with different folks—and bring them all together.”

She hopes to have the first part of her multimedia project online by the campaign’s anniversary of Oct. 5, 2018.


For a professor who mainly teaches English literature, Yadav admits his project, “Anthologies of African American Literature: An Online Bibliography,” has taken him out of his element in his quest to create a fully searchable and comprehensive bibliographic database of African American literature anthologies.

“This is a digital project, which is not the skillset I bring to the table,” he said. “It’s in collaboration with the digital scholarship unit housed at the library. So the chance to draw on their expertise, to think about software structure and what it would look like, makes this a realizable project as opposed to a fantasy. I have ideas, but I don’t have the know-how to make that happen.”

The database will encompass at least 500 anthologies of poetry, fiction, essays, memoirs, character sketches, speeches and more written by African Americans from the 19th century to current day. It will also include the images published with them, and information on how the collections were published and received by the public and critics.

Yadav described the work as “immensely laborious,” and said he plans to complete it “one layer at a time.” These layers will include crafting an enumerative bibliography, indexing contents and finally compiling the publication and reception histories of the anthologies.

Research supported by the Fenwick Fellowship has resulted in “significant scholarly dissemination by Mason faculty,” Zenelis said, with works ranging from conference presentations and proceedings to journal articles and academic monographs.

Computerized technology and multimedia certainly seem to be trends for the future, he noted. “Increasingly we expect such scholarly work will take the form of digital products.”

Ashley and Yadav will each present their work to the Mason community in spring 2019.