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Humanities Research for the Public Good
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About the Initiative

Application Deadline: Friday, December 13, 2019

Grants Available to Connect 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.

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

During the second year of this initiative, CIC will award grants of up to $10,000 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. The projects—which can take many forms—must address a topic of importance and interest to the local community.

“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 collections specialists who work in 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.

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

Project Director

Anne Valk headshotAnne M. 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.

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 collections specialist—such as 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.

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Participating Institutions

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 collections specialist—such as 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.

Eligible Projects

Proposed projects should engage undergraduate students in research activities 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, engaging members of the community, and promoting community conversations.

Here are a few examples of projects funded during the 2019–2020 academic year:
  • Augustana University (with Washington Pavilion): “Re-presenting” Native Americans in South Dakota’s Archival History
    A collaboration between Augustana undergraduates and high school students from the  Flandreau Indian School, this public exhibition draws upon the South Dakota Episcopal Diocese Archives to reconsider white missionaries’ perspectives on Native Americans and fill in some of the “archival absences” of Native Americans.

  • Daemen College (with Open Buffalo): Skateland: Oral History and Community Archive
    A digital archive of photo collages and oral histories from skaters at the Kiddie Skateland roller skating rink, a neighborhood anchor that served Buffalo’s east side for over 40 years.

  • Lewis & Clark College (with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon): The Vietnamese Portland Podcast Series
    A series of student-produced podcasts that explore the untold stories of Vietnamese migrants and the development of their community in Portland, using material from the “Vietnamese Portland: History, Memory, Community” archive.

  • Mars Hill University (with the Appalachian Barn Alliance): Influence and Legacy: The Farmers Federation in Madison County, NC
    A public program documenting farm life and rural culture in western North Carolina from the 1920s to the 1960s, drawing upon the archival records of the Farmers Federation.

  • University of Denver (with the Denver Public Library): Engaging the History of the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society
    A student-curated exhibition that explores the work and legacy for public health of the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society, which offered free treatment for tuberculosis to poor immigrants and other community members in the early 20th century.

For additional inspiration and ideas, applicants may find it helpful to consult Humanities for All, an annotated database compiled by the National Humanities Alliance with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which showcases a number of public humanities projects developed by small colleges and universities in collaboration with community partners.

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Eligible Projects

Proposed projects should engage undergraduate students in research activities 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, engaging members of the community, and promoting community conversations.

Here are a few examples of projects funded during the 2019–2020 academic year:
  • Augustana University (with Washington Pavilion): “Re-presenting” Native Americans in South Dakota’s Archival History
    A collaboration between Augustana undergraduates and high school students from the  Flandreau Indian School, this public exhibition draws upon the South Dakota Episcopal Diocese Archives to reconsider white missionaries’ perspectives on Native Americans and fill in some of the “archival absences” of Native Americans.

  • Daemen College (with Open Buffalo): Skateland: Oral History and Community Archive
    A digital archive of photo collages and oral histories from skaters at the Kiddie Skateland roller skating rink, a neighborhood anchor that served Buffalo’s east side for over 40 years.

  • Lewis & Clark College (with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon): The Vietnamese Portland Podcast Series
    A series of student-produced podcasts that explore the untold stories of Vietnamese migrants and the development of their community in Portland, using material from the “Vietnamese Portland: History, Memory, Community” archive.

  • Mars Hill University (with the Appalachian Barn Alliance): Influence and Legacy: The Farmers Federation in Madison County, NC
    A public program documenting farm life and rural culture in western North Carolina from the 1920s to the 1960s, drawing upon the archival records of the Farmers Federation.

  • University of Denver (with the Denver Public Library): Engaging the History of the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society
    A student-curated exhibition that explores the work and legacy for public health of the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society, which offered free treatment for tuberculosis to poor immigrants and other community members in the early 20th century.

For additional inspiration and ideas, applicants may find it helpful to consult 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

Please review the detailed PDFInstructions for Applicants for more information about the application process. Complete applications should include a letter of support from the president of the institution, a letter of support from the community partner, brief biographies of the team members, a Excelpreliminary budget, and a narrative statement of no more than six (6) pages that addresses:

  • The scope of the proposed project and the archival, library, or museum collection(s) to be used;
  • The significance of the research topic to be addressed by the project;
  • How the student research will be shared with, and benefit, the public;
  • The institution’s experience with community partnerships and public support for the humanities; and
  • How participation in the initiative will support the institution’s strategic goals.
The application deadline for 2020–2021 is December 13, 2019.

On October 10, 2019, CIC hosted a webinar for prospective applicants that included additional details and advice about the application process. Applicants are encouraged to review a recording of the webinar and thepresentation slides.

Selection Criteria

  • Availability of appropriate archival, library, or museum collection(s);
  • Quality and significance of the topic(s) to be addressed by the undergraduate research project;
  • Quality, distinctiveness, and feasibility of the proposed public program;
  • Evidence that the proposed project addresses a topic of clear public interest and importance, not just a topic of primary interest to the campus community or scholars;
  • Commitment to the project by both the CIC member institution and a community-based partner organization;
  • Evidence that that the project is likely to engage members of the public at multiple stages; and
  • The team members’ experience in supporting undergraduate research and public outreach.

Project Timeline (2020–2021 Projects)

​December 13, 2019: proposals due
February 2020: selected institutions will be notified
June 29–July 1, 2020: opening workshop in Washington, DC (all team members must attend)
August 2020–May 2021: campus projects implemented
April or May 2021: closing workshop (includes the participation of student researchers)
August 2021: final evaluation reports due to CIC

[The opening workshop was] energizing—we really enjoyed the experience of meeting colleagues, hearing about other projects, and understanding best practices in our project development and execution.”
— Sandy Yusen, Director of Communications and External Relations, Champlain College


On June 29–July 1, 2020, CIC will host a three-day workshop for team members from selected institutions to develop their campus projects. During the workshop, teams will come 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 2021, following the implementation of the projects, will give the teams—including the student researchers—an opportunity to present their work and share lessons learned.

Participating Institutions (2019–2020)

PDFA more detailed list of participating institutions, project titles, and community partners is also available.

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

Contact Information

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