Biennial Innovation Award

The Library Company of Philadelphia’s Biennial Innovation Award is awarded to a project that critically and creatively expands the possibilities of humanistic scholarship.

Since the mid-twentieth century, proponents of progress 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.

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2021 Innovation Award Winner

Dr. Elizabeth Rule

Guide to Indigenous DC

Guide to Indigenous DC is a digital map, mobile application, and monograph of sites of Indigenous importance in the nation’s capital.

By highlighting sites of importance to Native peoples within, and contributions to, Washington, DC, Guide to Indigenous DC showcases empowering stories of how this prominent city is a place of tribal gathering, presence, and advocacy with a long, rich history. Users of this free iOS application have access to a map of 17 sites of Indigenous importance, including photos, descriptions, and external resources, and can be used for both in-person touring or virtual tours with 360-degree on-the-ground views of the sites.

Dr. Elizabeth Rule is Assistant Professor of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies at American University. She is an enrolled citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. She earned a Ph.D. in American Studies at Brown University, and a B.A. in American Studies at Yale University.

Learn More About Dr. Rule

Download the App (Apple/iOS)

2021 Innovation Award Honorable Mentions

Xóchitl Flores-Marcial, Moisés García Guzmán, Felipe H. Lopez, George Aaron Broadwell, Alejandra Dubcovsky, May Helena Plumb, Mike Zarafonetis, and Brook Danielle, Caseidyneen-Saen – Learning Together

Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone, Land-Grab Universities

2019 Biennial Innovation Award Recipients

Dr. Sari Altschuler and Dr. David Weimer

Touch This Page! Making Sense of the Ways We Read

Developed with a team of librarians, scholars, and engineers, Touch This Page! reproduces tactile facsimiles of pages printed for blind and low-vision readers in order to make the experience of reading these books publicly accessible for the first time in over a century. Touch This Page! enlivens issues of disability history through the widely shared experience of reading while illustrating how and why digital humanities projects must expand beyond visual forms.

Sari Altschuler is associate professor of English, Associate Director of the Humanities Center, and Founding Director of Health, Humanities, and Society at Northeastern University. David Weimer earned his Ph.D. in English from Harvard University and has been the Librarian for Cartographic Collections and Learning at the Harvard Map Collection since 2016.

2019 Innovation Award Honorable Mentions

Dr. Ellery Foutch, Sheldon Relic Chair

A course-based collaborative project that enlists undergraduates in curation, fabrication, and local history.

Dr. Lana Finley (Thea Wirsching), The American Renaissance Tarot

A 78-card Tarot deck and companion book that introduces students to American literary and religious history.

Together, these projects illuminate the kinds of innovative work that the Library Company seeks to support, including collaborating scholars who draw inspiration from our collections, programming, and scholarly community (Altschuler and Weimer); faculty who invite students into the research process (Foutch); and researchers who reimage scholarly works for new audiences (Finley).

The Innovation Award was made possible with the support of our Founding Sponsor, Randall M. Miller.

About Founding Sponsor, Randall M. Miller