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UMD’s 1856 Project Receives $200,000 Grant from Mellon Foundation for Research Incubator Investigating Legacy of Slavery at the University

Grant will fund two-year program led by UMD Libraries and Office of Diversity and Inclusion to document histories of enslaved individuals, build a model for collaborative reparative archives work

Mellon Foundation log with The 1856 Project Logo over a historic photo of the UMD campus

The University of Maryland’s 1856 Project, part of the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, has been awarded a generous $200,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation Public Knowledge program to establish a two-year research incubator program that will investigate the legacy of slavery at the university and document histories of enslaved individuals, ensuring their stories and contributions are recognized, honored and preserved. The grant marks a significant milestone for The 1856 Project, providing momentum in advancing the Project’s aim to develop effective methods for research initiatives that reveal the truth about human enslavement and racism in institutional histories. 

In collaboration with the Lakeland Community Heritage Project, Riversdale Historical Society, and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), The 1856 Project will utilize the grant to establish a Research Incubator for Reparative Histories and Social Justice (RHSJ). A cohort of campus and community researchers, led by Lae'l Hughes-Watkins, Co-Chair of The 1856 Project and UMD Libraries’ Associate Director of Engagement, Inclusion and Reparative Archiving; and Georgina Dodge, UMD’s Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, will develop and produce “micro-histories” of enslaved individuals associated with the University of Maryland. These histories will document individual experiences through a multidisciplinary approach, incorporating first-hand accounts, historical research, cultural anthropology, ethnography, and literary practices.

“Receiving this grant from the Mellon Foundation reinvigorates our commitment to confronting historical injustices, promoting dialogue and honoring the contributions of enslaved individuals,” said Hughes-Watkins. “Work resulting from the research incubator will not only enrich the understanding of generations of racialized trauma rooted in the university's past but also contribute to fostering a more inclusive and empathetic campus culture moving forward.”

In addition to funding original research, the grant will support documentation of best practices for similar reparative archives work. The 1856 Project plans to use the research incubator to develop a model for collaborative research between academic institutions and community partners focused on investigating the impact of the slave economy on surrounding communities and the role of academic institutions in perpetuating human subjugation. The grant will also fund community training sessions to equip emerging researchers with the skills necessary to navigate databases, engage in genealogical research and work with archival material. Educational modules developed through the research incubator will be used in courses at UMD and other academic institutions and in public community centers, amplifying the impact of the project beyond the University of Maryland.

About The 1856 Project

The 1856 Project is hosted by the University of Maryland Libraries and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and is part of Universities Studying Slavery, a consortium of over 100 institutions of higher education in the U.S. and beyond engaged in truth-telling educational projects focused on human bondage and the legacies of racism in their histories. 

An important part of the University of Maryland's strategic commitments, The 1856 Project provides a narrative of the university's history that embraces its past, stands firm in the challenges and achievements of its present, and lays the groundwork for a more equitable future.

About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. Learn more at

Project leads: Lae'l Hughes-Watkins, Associate Director of Engagement, Inclusion and Reparative Archiving, UMD Libraries; Georgina Dodge, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, UMD Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Project team: Maya Davis, Director, Riversdale House Museum; Traci Dula, Associate Director, UMD Honors College; Maxine Gross, Founding Chair, Lakeland Community Heritage Project; Douglas McElrath, Head of Special Collections and University Archives, UMD Libraries; Manuel Mendez, Graduate Assistant for Special Collections and University Archives, UMD Libraries; Barnet Pavão-Zuckerman, Chair, UMD Anthropology Department; Angela Denise Rodgers-Koukoui, Lecturer, UMD College of Information Studies; Violetta Sharps Jones, Vice Chair, Lakeland Community Heritage Project; Siobhan Alise Elizabeth Summers, Faculty Specialist, UMD Anthropology Department

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