‘Humanities Research for the Public Good’ Initiative Launches; Applications Due Dec. 14

Public Humanities banner  

When Ed Ayers, the award-winning historian and president (now emeritus) of the University of Richmond (VA), received the National Humanities Medal in 2012, he said, “When you see what the humanities have to offer, you want to share them as broadly as you can.” For more than a decade, however, leaders in higher education and humanities scholars have worried about a “crisis” in the humanities, marked by a decline in the number of college majors and a popular perception that philosophy, history, literature, and languages no longer have relevance to contemporary issues or the public good. A new CIC initiative, Humanities Research for the Public Good, offers a strong response to these criticisms by helping CIC members demonstrate the power of the humanities to shed light on the past, to offer new insights into current issues, and to engage both students and members of the public in contemplating a better future.

CIC is accepting applications from member institutions for participation in the new initiative, which is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. CIC will award participating institutions grants of up to $10,000 for the 2019–2020 academic year to support undergraduate research projects that incorporate a public presentation of research findings. The research projects must make use of a significant archival, library, or museum collection held by the college or university, and the institution must collaborate with a community-based organization to share this research with the public. Projects also must address a topic of local public significance.

“Independent colleges are stronger when they share their resources with their communities—and so are their communities,” said CIC President Richard Ekman when announcing the new initiative. “Those resources often include significant archival or library collections that can illuminate issues of real public importance.”

Humanities Research for the Public Good is designed to connect independent colleges and universities with cultural and civic organizations in their local areas for the benefit of both students and the public; help institutions make better use of existing campus collections for teaching, undergraduate research, and public engagement; enhance the research, collaboration, and communication skills of students in humanities disciplines; encourage humanities faculty members and the staff members of campus libraries, archives, and museums to apply their expertise to issues of public policy and community concern; and increase public interest in and appreciation of humanities research.

CIC will select 25 member institutions to participate in the initiative through a competitive application process. Each campus team must include a full-time faculty member in the humanities who will serve as a mentor to the student researcher(s); a librarian, archivist, or museum curator with expertise in collections for research and presentation; and a senior campus administrator with responsibilities for public outreach or external relations. Each institution will partner with at least one nonprofit community-based organization (for example, a museum or historical society, public library, social service provider, or civic organization). The public outreach could take the form of an exhibition, public walking tour, website, video documentary or podcast, lecture or other face-to-face presentation, or some other creative format for sharing student research and promoting community conversations.

The selected institutional teams will meet in Washington, DC, in June 2019 for an opening workshop featuring a keynote presentation by Ayers. A closing workshop in spring 2020, following the implementation of campus projects, will give the teams—including the student researchers—an opportunity to present their work and share lessons learned. The senior advisor for this project is Annie Valk, associate director for public humanities and lecturer in history at Williams College in Massachusetts. She is a specialist in oral history, public history, and the social history of the United States in the 20th century, an award-winning author of books on women’s history and African American history, and past president of the Oral History Association.

The application deadline is December 14, 2018. Thanks to the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, CIC will cover all costs for lodging, meals, and workshop materials and subsidize most travel costs. For more information, including on expectations of participating institutions and application procedures, visit the program website.