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Humanities Research for the Public Good

About the Initiative

Connecting Independent Colleges with Their Communities through Undergraduate Research

The humanities enrich our lives and offer us tools to make better sense of the world. The humanities help connect individuals and communities. 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. Many independent colleges and universities have countered these claims by pointing to the growth of enrollment in humanities classes and citing surveys of employers that emphasize the importance of strong writing, critical thinking, and a knowledge of diverse cultures for successful careers in tomorrow’s workforce.

“Humanities Research for the Public Good” offers a different response to these criticisms by helping CIC member institutions demonstrate the power of the humanities to shed light on the past, to offer new insights on current issues, and to engage both students and members of the public in contemplating a better future. By making visible the significant collections contained in college archives, libraries, and museums, the project aims to show how these raw materials of humanities research can address the concerns and experiences of local communities.

CIC will award grants of up to $10,000 for the 2019–2020 academic year—plus a second round of awards through a separate competition for the 2020–2021 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. The institution must collaborate with a community-based organization to share this research with the public. Projects must address a topic of importance and interest to the local community.

The student research  might include a course-based project, an independent study, or a stipend-funded research assistantship. The resulting public program could take the form of an exhibit, public walking tour, website, video documentary or podcast, lecture or other face-to-face presentation, or some other creative format for sharing research and promoting community conversations.

“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;
  • 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.
When you see what the humanities have to offer, you want to share them as broadly as you can.”
Edward L. Ayers, Historian and President Emeritus, University of Richmond

This initiative is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Project Director

Anne Valk headshotAnne Valk serves as project director and evaluator of the “Humanities Research for the Public Good” initiative. Valk is 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, and the award-winning author of books on women’s history and African American history. She has served as director of women’s studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, deputy director of the Center for Public Humanities at Brown University, and president of the Oral History Association. Valk has a BA in psychology from Mount Holyoke College and a PhD in history from Duke University.

Keynote Speaker

(for the June 2019 Workshop)
Edward Ayers headshotEdward L. Ayers, Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus of the University of Richmond, is one of the nation’s leading historians and public humanists. His honors include serving as president of the Organization of American Historians (2017), the National Humanities Medal (2013), and National Professor of the Year (2003). His latest book, The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America (2017), received the Lincoln Prize from Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. His earlier books have been finalists for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and his 2003 book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859–1863, won the Bancroft Prize for distinguished writing in American history. A pioneer in the field of digital history, Ayers led the Valley of the Shadow project at the University of Virginia. He also co-hosts BackStory, a popular podcast about American history.

Participating Institutions (2019–2020)

Alaska Pacific University
Augustana University (SD)
Berry College
Bethany College (KS)
Butler University
Champlain College
Connecticut College
Daemen College (NY)
Fisk University
Franklin College
Gustavus Adolphus College
Hollins University
Lewis & Clark College ​
​Mars Hill University
Messiah College
Oberlin College 
Reinhardt University
Rust College
Saint Mary's College (IN)
Simmons University
St. Mary's University (TX)
Stevenson University 
University of Denver 
University of Findlay
Wofford College

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Who Can Apply

​CIC welcomes applications from current institutional members. (Selected participants must remain in good standing as institutional members for the duration of the project.) Twenty-five (25) CIC member institutions will be selected 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 partnership. Each institution must partner with at least one nonprofit community-based organization (for example, a museum or historical society, public library, social service provider, or civic organization) to develop a program of public outreach.

Note that CIC will select a second cohort of institutions for the 2020–2021 academic year through a separate competition.

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Eligible Projects

Proposed projects should engage undergraduate students in research initiatives that utilize institutional collections (such as those held in a special collections library, archive, or museum) to address issues of importance and interest to the local community. The student research  might include a course-based project, an independent study, or a stipend-funded research assistantship. The resulting public program could take the form of an exhibit, public walking tour, website, video documentary or podcast, lecture or other face-to-face presentation, or some other creative format for sharing research and promoting community conversations.

Selected institutions will receive grants of up to $10,000. These funds must be used to support the proposed project directly, including (but not limited to) material costs and stipends for students and faculty members. These funds may not be used for overhead expenses, to compensate staff at the partner organization, or to support travel to national workshops (which will be reimbursed separately). A detailed project budget is not required as part of the initial application, but applicants should address anticipated costs. Participating institutions will be required to submit an outline budget for approval—including direct and in-kind support from the institution and the community partner—and then report expenses.

Humanities for All, an annotated database compiled by the National Humanities Alliance with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, showcases a number of public humanities projects developed by small colleges and universities in collaboration with community partners.

How to Apply

The application deadline for 2019–2020 has passed. Award recipients were notified in February 2019. Revised application guidelines for 20202021 will be announced in September 2019. However, the information below may still be of interest to prospective applicants.

Please review the detailed PDFInstructions for Applicants for more information about the 2019–2020 application process. Complete applications included a letter of support from the president of the college or university, a letter of support from the community partner, brief biographies of the team members, and a narrative statement of no more than six (6) pages that addressed:

  • The scope of the proposed project and the archival, library, or museum collection(s) to be used;
  • How the student research will be shared with, and benefit, the public;
  • The institution’s experience with undergraduate research in the humanities and community partnerships; and
  • How participation in the initiative will support the institution’s strategic goals.
CIC hosted an informational webinar for prospective applicants on October 3, 2018. The PDFpresentation slides Opens in new window and a recording of the webinar Opens in new window are available. A PDFlist of questions and answers for applicants also is available. 

Selection Criteria

  • Availability of archival, library, or museum collection(s) with materials of local or regional significance;
  • Quality and public significance of the topic(s) to be addressed by the undergraduate research project;
  • Quality, distinctiveness, and feasibility of the proposed public program;
  • Evidence of commitment to the project by both the CIC member institution and a community-based partner organization;
  • Institutional experience and support for undergraduate research in the humanities; and
  • Team members’ experience in supporting undergraduate research and public outreach.

Project Timeline (2019–2020 Projects)

​December 17, 2018: proposals due
February 2019: selected institutions notified
June 26–28, 2019: opening workshop in Washington, DC
August 2019–May 2020: campus projects implemented
April 2426, 2020: closing workshop in Baltimore, MD (including student researchers)
August 2020: final evaluation reports due to CIC

On June 26–28, 2019, CIC hosted a three-day workshop for team members from selected institutions to develop their campus projects. During the workshop, teams came together with distinguished scholars and practitioners to:

  • Learn about inspiring projects and best practices in public humanities work;
  • Consider how to build and sustain fruitful partnerships with community organizations;
  • Develop plans to implement their projects successfully in the coming academic year; and
  • Learn about methods to assess the impact and outcomes for students, community partners, and the college or university.

A closing workshop in spring 2020, following the implementation of the projects, will give the teams—including the student researchers—an opportunity to present their work and share lessons learned.

Contact Information

​Contact Philip M. Katz, CIC director of projects, at (202) 466-7230 or, or Anne M. ValkOpens in new window, senior advisor for “Humanities Research for the Public Good,” at