Friday, October 2, 2015

Last July, two University of Iowa graduate students expanded their sense of how they might use their training as humanities scholars. Erica Damman (Environmental Humanities, CLAS) and Noaquia Callahan (History, CLAS) were part of the first cohort of graduate student Fellows to participate in the Alternative Academic Career Workshop for Pre-Doctoral Students in the Humanities. The Workshop is sponsored by Humanities Without Walls (HWW), a consortium of humanities centers and institutes from 15 major research universities throughout the Midwest and beyond. The HWW initiative is led by Professor Antoinette Burton, Professor and Director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

Each Fellow received a $4,500 stipend to cover travel to and from the summer workshop, housing, and incidentals. The Fellows received certificates of completion after attending the three-week program.

Erica Damman
Chicago as Backdrop and Playground for Alt-Ac Exploration

Damman and Callahan were among the 30 fellows--two from each consortium university--to participate in the 2015 residential workshop in Chicago. During the course of the three weeks, the group moved around the city, visiting museums, libraries, hybrid cultural sites, and an internationally-acclaimed advertising agency. They had extensive conversations about career paths with curators, editors, entrepreneurs, artists, consultants, event organizers, and recently graduated Ph.D. recipients.

The Expansive Humanities Ph.D.

"Never before have I thought of how expansive the humanities Ph.D. and my skill set could be," says Damman. She and Callahan are both previous Obermann Graduate Institute Fellows, and Damman says that the HWW Workshop reminded her of the Institute in that once again she was "in the company of brilliant, kind people whose compass is set toward social impact and a more imaginative, inclusive view of the world." (To gain some sense of Damman's workshop experience, take a look at her blog posts from last summer, including one in which she wrote, "I sat there and realized that the HWW workshop would be the beginning of radical redefinition of myself, how I self-identify, and how I project my expertise outside the academy.")

Noaquia Callahan
Callahan, who is currently a Doctoral Fellow in African American History at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., agrees that the workshop exposed her to a variety of careers inside and outside the academy. It also helped her to better understand how to venture outside the academy: "While I’ve always been interested in exploring my career options beyond the academy, figuring out how was a constant frustration. Through a series of presentations, group exercises, and informational interviews, HWW equipped me with the tools necessary to use networking, resume writing, and social media, to be successful on the job market. Of equal importance, I learned how my work as a doctoral student in history, as a researcher, and community service organizer has cultivated a transferable skill set that is desirable to a wide-range of employers.” 

Callahan eventually hopes to work in the world of foundations or with the U.S. State Department, while Damman is parsing options that include forming or working for an environmental consultancy group, environmental coordination at the city level, or being an independent artist/writer. As she weighs options, Damman says, "The workshop taught me how to take ownership of my multi-hyphenated interests. Reframing is not just a way of adopting the language of an outside world or translating my academic skills, but recognizing the value and need for people who think from a humanist viewpoint.... I do not exaggerate when I say this was a life-changing experience!"

Call for Summer 2016 Now Open

The call for the next class of fellows is currently open. This is a two-step application process. First, students in the humanities or in fields that use methods from the humanities apply to the Obermann Center. Our review committee will select four applicants to submit to the consortium competition.  Second, the HWW consortium review committee will select two Fellows from each of the 15 member universities.

DUE DATE:  Applications for the University of Iowa competition are due November 1 by 5 pm to the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. The application process (which includes letters of recommendation) is explained in detail on the main HWW page.

Application guidelines:

Please submit the required materials to Erin Hackathorn at

The Obermann review committee will select four applicants to put forward. We will contact all applicants by mid November and submit the our nominees to the HWW committee. Two UI awardees will be notified in January of their participation in next summer's workshop, which will again take place in Chicago.

2015 Fellows' Blog: