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Building the NEH Grant Proposal. Robert Porter Proposal Development Team University of Tennessee [email protected] /. NEH Overview. An independent Federal agency National Council for the Humanities appointed by the president, confirmed by Senate

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Building the

NEH Grant Proposal

Robert Porter

Proposal Development Team

University of Tennessee

[email protected]

NEH Overview

  • An independent Federal agency

  • National Council for the Humanities appointed

  • by the president, confirmed by Senate

  • Largest funder of humanities in US

  • Program officers include permanent NEH staff

  • and university “rotators” (IPA’s)

  • Funding recommendations made by review panels

  • of established scholars

  • Proposal success rates vary: 10% – 25%;

  • average ~15% across all programs

Old Post Office Building

Washington DC

The humanities include...









History & criticism

of the arts

Social sciences




Media studies

NEH awards grants to:

  • Strengthen teaching and learning in the humanities in schools and colleges across the nation

  • Facilitate research and original scholarship

  • Provide opportunities for lifelong learning

  • Preserve and provide access to cultural and educational resources

  • Strengthen the institutional base of the humanities


“Budget Jeopardy” Quiz

A: $150 billion

Q: ________________________?

A: $30 billion

Q: ________________________?

A: $6 billion

Q: ________________________?

A: $0.15 billion (150 million)

Q: ________________________?

Clue: These are

annual expenditures

for federal programs

Grants of interest

to academic researchers

  • Fellowships

  • Collaborative Research

  • Summer Stipends

  • Summer Seminars and Institutes

  • Enduring Questions

  • Digital Humanities

  • Preservation and Access


Electronic Submission is Here!

  • Major change from paper forms to SF 424

  • electronic forms ( )

  • Some programs require individuals to submit

  • proposals to (Fellowships, e.g.)

  • Others require the institution to apply

  • (Collaborative Research, Summer Seminars)


Body of grant remains much the same, but


working with sponsored research office!

A. Fellowships

  • Support individuals pursuing advanced research

  • of value to scholars and general audiences

  • May be awarded by NEH or Independent Research Institutes

  • Recipients usually produce articles, books, films,

  • digital materials, translations, archeological reports, etc.

  • Stipend: $4,200/month for 6 to 12 mos. ($50,400 max.)

  • Deadline: May 3, 2010

  • Eligibility: US citizens and foreign nationals

  • in residence 3 yrs +

A. Fellowship review criteria

  • The intellectual significance of the proposed project, including its value to scholars and general audiences in the humanities

  • The quality or promise of quality of the applicant's work as an interpreter of the humanities

  • The quality of the conception, definition, organization, and description of the project and the applicant's clarity of expression

  • The feasibility of the proposed plan of work, including, when appropriate, the soundness of the dissemination and access plans

  • The likelihood that the applicant will complete the project

B. Collaborative Research

  • Supports research by team (2+) of scholars coordinated

  • by one leading individual

  • Projects are full-time or part-time for one to three years

  • Budget: $25,000 to $100,00/yr. Cost sharing not required,

  • BUT norm for NEH is 20% contribution from applicant

  • NEH staff will review draft proposals up to six weeks prior

  • to deadline

  • Public access to project outcomes strongly encouraged

  • Deadline: December 8, 2011

  • Eligibility: Institutions, US citizens and foreign nationals

  • in residence 3 yrs +

B. Collaborative Research

  • Eligible projects:

  • Research that significantly adds to knowledge in the humanities

  • Conferences on topics of major importance

  • Archaeological projects

  • Translations into English of works that provide insight into other cultures

  • Research that uses the humanities to enhance understanding

  • of science, technology, medicine, and the social sciences

B. Collaborative Research

  • Proposal review criteria:

  • Intellectual significance of the project

  • Soundness of the research design and work plan

  • Qualifications and commitment of the project staff

  • Soundness of the dissemination and public access plans

  • Potential for project success and reasonableness of the budget

C. Summer Stipends

  • Supports individuals pursuing advanced research /writing

  • Duration: Full time support for two months

  • Recipients expected to produce articles, monographs,

  • digital materials, archeological reports, translations, etc.

  • Award: $6,000 (may receive other grants)

  • Many restrictions (see list)

  • Deadline: September 29, 2011

D. Summer Seminars and Institutes

  • Faculty development programs for K-12 and college teachers

  • Can apply as 1) Participant; or 2) Host institution

  • Duration: 2 – 6 weeks

  • NEH staff will review draft proposals up to one month prior

  • to deadline

  • Seminars: $45 - $120,000; Institutes: $80 – 200,000

  • Deadline: March 1, 2011



D. Summer Seminars and Institutes

  • Four models:

  • Seminar for school teachers (16): Participants explore topics

  • or set of readings led by a recognized scholar

  • Institute for school teachers (25 – 30): Core faculty team present best

  • scholarship on important issues taught in public schools

  • Seminar for college teachers (16): Participants conduct research or focused

  • study under guidance of an expert

  • Institute for college teachers (25): Core faculty guide participants in examining

  • topic of major importance in undergraduate curricula


Innovative use of information technology is encouraged

D. Summer Seminars and Institutes

Proposal review criteria:

1. Intellectual quality and significance

- Is the proposal's intellectual rationale clear and persuasive? - Does the study engage important humanities topics or texts?

- Does it draw on sound humanities research?

- Are faculty members strong scholars and excellent teachers?

2. Impact

- Will the project's objectives be met?

- Will participants be actively engaged in collegial intellectual inquiry?

- Will the experience stimulate teachers intellectually and professionally?

3. Feasibility

- Is the program format appropriate to the ideas, themes, and audience?

- Are project activities well planned and described in adequate detail?

- Do letters from visiting scholars and consultants demonstrate interest and commitment?

- Does the institutional setting support the project's objectives?

- Are the plans for administration sound and well developed?

- Are the costs reasonable?

E. Enduring Questions

  • Will support development of new undergraduate courses

  • that grapple with most fundamental concerns of humanities

  • Issues are pre-disciplinary, can be led by faculty

  • of any background (but with humanistic focus)

  • Duration: 18 – 24 months

  • Budgets: Up to $25,000; $15,000 stipend for director; up to

  • $10,000 for materials, student travel, museum admissions, etc.

  • 20 awards in 2009

  • Deadline: September 15, 2011

E. Enduring Questions


  • What is the good life?

  • What is justice? Mercy?

  • What is freedom? Happiness?

  • What is friendship?

  • What is dignity?

  • Is there a human nature, and, if so, what is it?

  • What are the limits of scientific understanding?

  • What is the relationship between humans and the natural world?

  • Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Good and evil?

  • What is good government?

  • What are the origins of the modern world?

  • What is liberal education?

Note: This is not an exhaustive list!

E. Enduring Questions

Courses must:

  • Be “pre-disciplinary,” not overspecialized

  • Focus on an explicitly stated question or questions

  • Draw on significant readings from prior to the twentieth century; may draw

  • on works of art, e.g., painting, music, plays, sculpture

  • Reflect intellectual pluralism, anticipating more than one plausible answer(s)

  • Be open to all students regardless of major or concentration

  • Require a letter of commitment to offer the course at least twice

E. Enduring Questions

Proposal review criteria:

1. Intellectual quality and significance

- Are the intellectual rationale of the project and its approach compelling?

- Does the intellectual rationale give evidence of a “pre-disciplinary” approach?

- Is there a strong relationship between the enduring question(s) and the works to be studied?

- Do the question(s) and the core readings reflect intellectual pluralism?

- Does the study seriously engage humanities sources prior to the twentieth century?

- Does the course emphasize the reading of books in their entirety or near entirety?

- Is the proposal clear, free of jargon, and accessible to nonspecialists?

2. Feasibility

- Is the envisioned course design effectively tailored to its intended audience?

- Are reading loads ambitious but realistic?

- Are ancillary activities, if any, well conceived?

- Is the teacher intellectually prepared to offer the proposed course?

- Is there a commitment on the part of the institution to support this course?

3. Impact

- Does the course have the potential to foster intellectual community anchored among students?

- Does the course have the potential to foster intellectual community at the applicant institution?

F. Digital Humanities Initiative

Start - Up Grants:

  • Jointly sponsored by NEH and the Institute of Museum

  • and Library Services (IMLS)

  • Supports planning activities or start up of digital initiatives

  • in any area of the humanities

  • Emphasis on innovation; “high risk/high reward” paradigm

  • (approach, tool or idea not used before in humanities)

  • Level I: Planning (brainstorming, workshops, prototypes, etc.)

  • ($5 - $25,000)

  • Level II: Larger grants for start-up of fully-formed projects

  • ($25 – 50,000)

  • Deadline: September 27, 2011

F. Digital Humanities Initiative

Program themes:

  • Research in new approaches and best practices in digital humanities

  • Planning and prototyping new tools for preserving, analyzing, and making

  • accessible digital resources, including those of libraries and museums

  • Scholarship that examines the philosophical implications and impact

  • of the use of emerging technologies

  • Innovative uses of technology for public programming and education

  • utilizing both traditional and new media

  • New digital modes of publication that disseminate humanities scholarship

  • at all levels: academic as well as formal and informal educational settings

F. Digital Humanities

Proposal review criteria:

  • Intellectual significance of the long-term project, including its potential to enhance research, teaching and learning in the humanities

  • Quality of the specific start-up activities

  • Qualifications and commitment of project director and staff

  • Usefulness to target audience and impact on scholarship

  • Quality of project assessment and evaluation plans

  • Potential for success within time frame and on budget

G. Preservation and Access

  • Projects that preserve and create access to collections of books,

  • journals, manuscripts, archival materials, art, recordings, etc.

  • Education & Training projects enable institutions to be

  • effective stewards of humanities collections

  • Research and Development projects investigate broad issues

  • of major significance in preservation and access

  • Awards: $100 - $300,000/2 yrs.; R&D projects up to $400K

  • (Cost sharing: 20% is expected)

  • Deadline: HC & R: June 30, 2011; R&D: May 19, 2011

G. Preservation and Access

Sample projects:

  • Digitizing collections

  • Arranging and describing archival and manuscript collections

  • Cataloging collections of printed works, photographs, recorded sound,

  • moving image, art, and material culture

  • Preservation reformatting

  • Deacidification of existing collections

  • Preserving and improving access to humanities resources

  • in “born digital” form

G. Preservation and Access

Reference works and research tools:

  • Databases and electronic archives that codify or integrate humanities

  • materials or provide bibliographic control of a subject or field

  • Encyclopedias about various fields in the humanities or about

  • a particular area or subject;

  • Historical, etymological, and bilingual dictionaries for undocumented

  • languages, as well as reference grammars and other linguistic tools

  • Descriptive catalogs that provide detailed information about humanities

  • materials;

  • Tools for spatial analysis and representation of humanities data

  • such as atlases and geographical information systems (GIS)

  • Digital tools specifically designed to develop or use humanities

  • resources

G. Preservation & Access

Proposal review criteria:

  • Project significance--how it will increase understanding of the humanities

  • Soundness of the proposed methodology--adherence to accepted national standards and professional practices

  • Viability, efficiency, and productivity of the work plan

  • Qualifications of the project staff

  • Plans for dissemination and access

  • Plan for project sustainability beyond the grant period

  • Appropriateness of the budget

Tips for Success...

  • Parse application guidelines carefully; address program goals

  • and review criteria in your writing

  • Consult an NEH program officer; read successful grants

  • Write in a simple, lively style; avoid stodgy academic jargon

  • Devote greatest effort to describing the project

  • Seek critical feedback before submitting

  • Choose referees carefully

  • Proofread!

  • If declined, request panel summary

  • Consider other fellowship programs: Fulbright, ACLS, Guggenheim, etc.

  • Get on a review panel (

  • Submit, revise & resubmit!

  • Treat it like a game (which it is)