Humanities Without Walls Consortium Awarded Mellon Grant Renewal

Authored on:

Aug 18, 2020
Map of the United States with midwest highlighted

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been awarded a $5 million grant renewal from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its Humanities Without Walls (HWW) initiative at the Humanities Research Institute (HRI). 

Now a 16-member consortium of universities, including the University of Iowa, HWW fosters collaborative research and explores the contributions of humanities in the workplace. The initiative is based at HRI (formerly the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

 "The decision by the Mellon Foundation to award the renewal of the Humanities without Walls initiative represents the ultimate vote of confidence in our Humanities Research Institute," said Chancellor Robert J. Jones. "HRI has been the headquarters of this program since its beginning and we're very proud to have it remain here. This is a powerful testament to the institute's national impact and leadership in cross-institutional cooperation and innovative humanities research practices." 

The five-year grant renewal includes the addition of Marquette University to the consortium and a number of initiatives guided by the core values of reciprocity and redistribution. "Embedding reciprocal structures and practices in diverse and inclusive intellectual projects is key to the long-range transformations of academic culture in the humanities to which HWW aspires," said HRI director and HWW principal investigator Antoinette Burton. 

"This means modeling best practices of diversity and equity through collaboration and interdisciplinarity not just at scale, but by design - purpose-built to address contemporary challenges not only with knowledge, but with methods aimed at changing how we think about and do the work in the world for which humanists are urgently needed." 

The renewed grant provides increased funding to research teams and supports the continuation of summer workshops for pre-doctoral humanities students that began in 2015. Since its inception, HWW has awarded 39 unique research grants to teams in the consortium and graduated more than 140 students from the annual career diversity workshop. 

While the newest research initiative will be themeless, the first two initiatives were themed as "The Global Midwest" and "The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate." University of Illinois History Professor John Randolph is principal investigator on the climate-related team "The Classroom and the Future of the Historical Record," which includes members from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Michigan State. Through this initiative, faculty and students are exploring the challenge of adapting the practice of history for the digital age. In addition to developing data science skills, participants are working on a program in digital documentary publishing called SourceLab.   

"Having humanists from multiple institutions share ideas and conduct related initiatives over a period of time makes it possible to think broadly about big problems," said Randolph. "Rarely do individual departments or universities have the kind of resources it takes to seed that kind of work. Through HWW, it's possible to chart out new directions by involving students in the exploring." 

In addition to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Humanities Without Walls consortium includes 15 other institutions that belong to the Big Ten Academic Alliance - Indiana University, newest partner Marquette University, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Purdue University, as well as the universities of Chicago, Illinois at Chicago, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin-Madison - plus the University of Notre Dame. The consortium was initially funded in 2014 with a $3 million grant from the Mellon Foundation and was renewed in 2016 with an additional $4.2 million. 

"We are so proud that Illinois will continue to lead HWW. Renewed Mellon funding - and expansion of the consortium - reflects the initiative's success at cultivating innovative research collaborations in the Midwest and beyond," said Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Susan Martinis. "I am confident that HWW scholarship will be a source of tremendous insight in the years to come, as we navigate the pressing challenges of our time. The timing of this wonderful news, so soon after we announced the campus-wide Humanities Research Institute at Illinois, underscores our belief that humanities scholarship is at the very heart of the 21st century public research university."