Innovation Fellowship Program

For our starting point, we return to the term’s Latin etymology, innovare: to renew or to make new again. Grounded in its religious context (the recovery of the soul), innovation, as we envision it, enables both inward and outward inquiry. Inward inquiry might take the form of a self-critiquing project that challenges the disciplinary cultures and practices in which it was produced, whereas outward inquiry might pursue modes of production and dissemination that enlist new audiences, allies, or co-creators—especially in the arts.

Since the mid-twentieth century, proponents have presented innovation as a panacea to the malaise of late-capitalism, variously equating it with creativity, entrepreneurship, and technological progress. However, as scholars like Benoît Godin, Alexander Mazzaferro, and John Patrick Leary have demonstrated, innovation was understood in the early modern period to be a risky affair—dangerous not only for the innovator but for the systems in which they worked.

If innovation has meant many things to many people—a charge of heresy (the Reformation) and sedition (the French Revolution), and a tool for social justice (nineteenth-century social reformers) and economic prosperity (federal intervention in the post-war period)—then an awareness of its definitional ambiguity might enable richer historical scholarship.

Situating innovation in a longer historical framework reveals the insufficiency of today’s techno-utopian discourse. Acknowledging the term’s inherent tensions invites a more contextual and germinal interpretation of innovation, grounded in humanistic methods.

With such understanding and context regarding the meaning and purposes of innovation, we welcome work that engages with pressing social issues, chafes against traditional disciplinary boundaries, or whose content or forms might not be readily legible as scholarship within the university rewards structures. In short, we want to catalyze experimentation and adaptation across the humanities and into and with the arts, to the enrichment of each and the elimination of artificial boundaries that impede experimentation and innovation.

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Support

The Innovation Fellowship Program is made possible by the generosity of our Founding Sponsor Dr. Randall M. Miller and Sustaining Sponsors Louise M. and Peter J. Kelly and Dr. John C. and Christine K. Van Horne. To make a contribution to support future Innovation Fellowships, please contact Raechel Hammer, Chief Development Officer, at rhammer@librarycompany.org.

Year One: Francis Johnson Fellows

The Innovation Fellowship Program will unfold over multiple years. The 2021-22 Fellowships will focus on Francis (Frank) Johnson, arguably the preeminent band leader in Philadelphia and one of the most popular black composers prior to the American Civil War. The Library Company of Philadelphia holds a significant collection of Johnson’s printed work and a manuscript composition book. The Francis Johnson Fellowship will support two fellows—a humanities scholar and a creative practitioner—as they delve into the compositions of this vital early-nineteenth-century artist.

The Innovation Fellowship Program is made possible by the generosity of our Founding Sponsor Randall M. Miller and Sustaining Sponsors Louise M. and Peter J. Kelly, John C. and Christine K. Van Horne, and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. To make a contribution to support future Innovation Fellowships, please contact Raechel Hammer, Chief Development Officer, at rhammer@librarycompany.org.