DGS Project History and Principles

Information for Mellon DGS Applicants

Before preparing your application, please review the project history and guiding principles. 

The seeds for the DGS Certificate and Mellon Fellows Program were planted a decade ago in a conversation between Laura Doyle and Mwangi wa Gĩthĩnji about the limits of ahistorical and eurocentric approaches to current inequalities and crises. This dialogue led to the founding of the World Studies Interdisciplinary Project (WSIP), which grew into an international collective of scholars devoted to decolonial paradigm-rethinking within a longue-durée framework and guided by interdisciplinary, intersectional methods. After a first conference in 2012 supported by organizations across the UMass Amherst campus, Mwangi and Doyle received a Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar grant in 2015 to run “Beyond Medieval and Modern,” a year-long series of seminars and public events. The seminar undertook an ambitious initiative: to bring together cutting-edge scholars working in different world regions, languages, and disciplines across two millennia to rethink the concepts and historical narratives that typically frame stories of human and planetary life, especially as organized around modernity, capitalism, hierarchy, productivity, individualism, and competition.  Building on the Sawyer seminars and subsequent collaborative events, members of the WSIP collective are now completing an edited collection of essays, Decolonial Reconstellations, which we anticipate will serve as one textbook for DGS certificate courses.

The Mellon Fellows program and DGS Certificate will allow us to embed this vision in the UMass-Amherst graduate curriculum. As noted above, courses will bring together decolonial-intersectional theory and historical research from across regions and disciplines so as to expose false historical paradigms and honor diverse legacies of ethical-epistemological imagining.  Here we use the term “decolonial” with awareness of its several genealogies across continents and as linked to intersectional, postcolonial, and planetary projects.  In recent years, some scholars have distinguished decolonial studies from postcolonial studies, yet at WSIP we aim to develop a long-historical, interdisciplinary method that integrates the analyses and insights of both.  If, as some would argue, postcolonial studies mainly seeks to critique the modern/colonial, Anglo-European world order, and decolonial studies mainly seeks to highlight visions originating outside of that order, especially among indigenous peoples, then WSIP explores the ways that, for more than two millennia, a range of transhemispheric interactions has generated both the problems and the creative visions of the global world.

We also take it as a given that decolonizing projects are transformative only when the relational practices on the ground embody the larger social-justice vision. Our work therefore requires attentive listening, critical self-awareness about inscribed habits and positionalities, and commitment to open-handed collaboration, practices which feed the creativity, pleasure, and transformative power of this work. In the same spirit, the project will involve cultivating mutually fruitful relationships across boundaries of all kinds, for instance by hosting activist, artistic, and public policy change-makers as Mellon Visiting Fellows.  In this interdisciplinary initiative, we also aim to build bridges across disciplines and angles of vision. 

In short, the goal of this DGS project is not merely to launch a Certificate program. It is to create a community that can build it and sustain it.  In these ways, we hope to contribute to the undoing of what Johannes Fabian called the denial of coevalness among peoples and among forms of life on earth.