Humanities Without Walls

Humanities Without Walls logo
Humanities Without Walls 

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies is proud to be a member of the Andrew W. Mellon funded Humanities Without Walls consortium. 

In 2015, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded $3,000,000 to the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to fund the first two years of an extensive consortium of fifteen humanities institutes in the Midwest and beyond. By leveraging the strengths of multiple distinctive campuses, the initiative, titled “Humanities Without Walls,” aims to create new avenues for collaborative research, teaching, and the production of scholarship in the humanities, forging and sustaining areas of inquiry that cannot be created or maintained without cross-institutional cooperation. The grant has now been renewed for an additional two years.

The grant, led by IPRH Director and Principal Investigator Antoinette Burton, has funded two initiatives. One supports the development of summer workshops for pre-doctoral students in the humanities who intend to pursue careers outside the academy; A second initiative has funded cross-institutional teams of faculty and graduate students pursuing research that focuses on a grand challenge: “The Global Midwest.” The latter is intended to stimulate collaborative research that rethinks and reveals the Midwest as a key site—both now and in the past—in shaping global economies and cultures. The first pre-doctoral workshop took place during the summer of 2015.

The consortium includes 13 of the institutions that belong to the Big 10 Academic Alliance—Indiana University, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Purdue University; and the Universities of Chicago, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin-Madison—plus the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The humanities centers at the 15 consortial institutions will serve as the hubs for collaboration. The Chicago Humanities Festival and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are also serving as key intellectual and infrastructural partners for the project.

The 21st century presents a clear and pressing need to collaboratively mobilize the collective resources of the heartland’s institutions of higher education. This consortium of humanities centers will together advance innovative and experimental research and pedagogical practices by sharing unevenly distributed resources across institutional walls, and by testing new ideas at scale. Humanities centers can best undertake this work because they are already sites of innovation on university campuses, generating ideas and stimulating new knowledge on campuses through the creation and funding of major initiatives.

The Humanities Without Walls consortium is the first of its kind to experiment at this large scale with cross-institutional collaboration.

By leveraging the strengths of multiple distinctive campuses, the initiative, titled “Humanities Without Walls,” aims to create new avenues for collaborative research, teaching, and the production of scholarship in the humanities, forging and sustaining areas of inquiry that cannot be created or maintained without cross-institutional cooperation.

Grand Research Challenge: The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate (now completed)

After focusing for two years on "The Global Midwest," the HWW consortium focused on a second grand challenge for two years. This second research initiative links the consortium partners in a common commitment to intellectual exchange and dialogue, this time around a broad question that resonates with many contemporary humanist scholars—namely, what is the work of the humanities in a changing climate? This rubric is intended to be both intellectually focused and capacious. In its narrowest interpretation, it calls for collaborative work on climate change, arguably the most pressing grand challenge of our time. As a metaphor, climate change is pluripotent: it offers humanists the opportunity to think expansively about the meanings of “climate” and “change” as they manifest in their own research, and to bring their contributions to bear on cognate questions in the present.

This new research initiative also continues to link the consortium partners in a common commitment to intellectual exchange and dialogue, this time around a broad question that resonates with many contemporary humanist scholars—namely, what is the work of the humanities in a changing climate? This rubric is intended to be both intellectually focused and capacious. In its narrowest interpretation, it calls for collaborative work on climate change, arguably the most pressing grand challenge of our time. We supported collaborative research in the field of environmental humanities, broadly conceived, as well as the development of new humanities-centered paradigms for thinking through the limits and possibilities of climate change policy. We did so out of a conviction that the current climate crisis has deep historical roots yet to be fully tapped; that it calls for new philosophies and theories of the human and the anthropocene; that its fictions and visual cultures bear mightily on its material consequences, past, present and future; and that collaborative research on these questions and more is indispensable to scholarly expertise on the subject, in the humanities and beyond.

As a metaphor, climate change is pluripotent: it offers humanists the opportunity to think expansively about the meanings of “climate” and “change” as they manifest in their own research, and to bring their contributions to bear on cognate questions in the present. Thus “The Work of Humanities in a Changing Climate” also hails scholars who wish to consider the pressure of other forms of contemporary “climate change” on their fields of inquiry—from a changing racial climate to a changing economic climate to the changing notion of “the public” and what it means for the intellectual work environments of humanists.

The cross-consortial research projects are all now underway. 

Pre-doctoral Summer Workshops for Students in the Humanities and Related Disciplines

Launched in 2015 as an initiative of the HWW consortium, the workshop welcomes thirty participants each summer from higher education institutions across the United States. HWW Summer Workshop Fellows work in a variety of academic disciplines. They are scholars and practitioners who bring experience in community building, museum curation, filmmaking, radio programming, social media, project management, research, writing, and teaching. They are invested in issues of social justice and seek ways to bring humanistic values, insights, and skills to the public and private sectors. You can see valuable sessions on preparation for diverse careers on the HWW Youtube channel

In the spirit of practice-oriented learning, HWW and CHF partner with entities such as IDEO, a design and consulting firm, to lead students in real-world problem-solving exercises around important contemporary issues. Recognizing that each fellow’s skillset has been primarily oriented toward an academic track, the workshop includes sessions on values-based career planning, resume and cover letter construction, networking, and social media strategies from experts in career development.

Graduates from the workshop will emerge with a network of contacts in a range of professional realms; a significantly broadened sense of the career possibilities that await humanities PhDs; a cohort of HWW Summer Workshop Fellows (and friends!) from whom they may draw support and advice; and a set of resources aimed at helping them advance into the various realms considered under the broad rubric of “the public humanities.” 

HWW is holding its second national, in-residence summer workshop from July 15 through August 2, 2019, for doctoral students interested in learning about careers outside of the academy and/or the tenure track system. Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF)—a leading public humanities organization—designs and runs the summer workshop in consultation with HWW. Through a series of workshops, talks, and field trips, participants learn how to leverage their skills and training towards careers in the private sector, the non-profit world, arts administration, public media and many other fields. View application details.

Where: Chicago, Illinois. Most weekday workshop events will take place at the Genevieve and Wayne Gratz Center at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St (at N. Michigan Ave.). The workshop also includes site visit to organizations around the city.

This is an in-residence workshop. As such, all participants, regardless of regular place of domicile, will be housed in private apartments. The costs of lodging are included in the fellowship. Staying in the provided housing is required as a condition of acceptance this fellowship. Details about lodging will be provided to those selected for the workshop.

When: July 15 through August 2. Workshop sessions take place from approximately 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday, for three weeks. Fellows are required to attend all workshop events and are strongly discouraged from traveling during the workshop. While there are no events scheduled during weekends, the CHF will circulate a list of interesting and e o that students are welcome to explore on their own.

We congratulate previous HWW Graduate Fellows:

Summer 2018

  • Lydia Maunz-Breese, PhD Candidate, Department of English, CLAS
  • Makayla Steiner, PhD Candidate, English, CLAS

Summer 2017

  • Nikolaos Maggos, PhD Candidate, Department of Philosophy, CLAS

Summer 2016

  • Anu Thapa, PhD Candidate, Department of Cinematic Arts, CLAS
  • Angela Toscano, PhD Candidate, Department of English, CLAS

Summer 2015

  • Noaquia Callahan, PhD candidate, Department of History, CLAS
  • ​Erica Damman, Interdisciplinary PhD candidate, Environmental Humanities, Graduate College

Overview

Pre-Doctoral Summer Workshops

Pending further funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Humanities Without Walls plans to host future workshops in the summers of 2021 through 2024.

A detailed call for applications for the 2021 workshop should be available by June 2020 on the Humanities Without Walls website.

Grand Challenge (now completed)

Tenured faculty members from the University of Iowa from the humanities and qualitative social sciences participated in the Grand Challenge. You can learn more by visiting the Humanities Without Walls website.