Grand Research Challenge Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

For Applicants

For Awardees

General Information


What universities belong to the Humanities Without Walls Consortium?

Indiana University Bloomington, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Purdue University; and the Universities of Chicago, Illinois at Chicago, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Iowa, Michigan, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin-Madison.

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How does Humanities Without Walls define the “humanities”?

Humanities Without Walls uses the definition of the humanities taken from the 1965 National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act:

“The term ‘humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”

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For Applicants


Can I apply for research challenge funding if I have already received research challenge in the past?

Yes, awardees from earlier rounds of HWW Grand Research Challenges can apply for subsequent rounds of funding. Their proposals will compete on equal footing with all other proposals.

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Part of our project involves non-humanists participants or non-humanities methodology, can we still apply?

We have no objection at all to the inclusion of scientists and social scientists working in teams with humanities faculty. In fact, we hope for such collaborations across disciplinary divides, and anticipated some “applied humanities” projects that will necessitate teams of scientists, social scientists, and humanists. The key will be to frame your project as pertaining to the rubric of the particular HWW Grand Research Challenge.

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Can faculty members from non-consortial universities participate in the HWW Grand Research Challenges?

Non-consortial faculty may participate in proposed research activities, but only faculty from the 15 member institutions of the HWW Consortium may receive funding. Please see below for a more in-depth answer to what precisely constitutes disallowed “fund sharing” and what does not.

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Are university non-faculty staff eligible to participate in Humanities Without Walls research challenges?

Non-faculty staff may be eligible to participate on research teams, with eligibility being determined ultimately by their home university’s policies.

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Are graduate students eligible to participate in Humanities Without Walls research challenge?

Graduate student participation is required in the present research challenge, “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate,” in which research proposals must include two graduate students from at least one consortial institution.

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Are non-tenure track faculty eligible to apply for HWW research challenge funding?

Only tenure-line faculty qualify to be “project leaders” (PIs) and “project coordinators” (co-PIs at collaborating universities) on proposals, but non-tenure track faculty (as well as specialized faculty, research associates, and staff) may participate as members of faculty-led consortial teams if their home universities’ policies allow them to do so.

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Are emeritus faculty eligible to participate in HWW-funded research?

Yes. In keeping with the greater mission of Humanities Without Walls as an incubator of collaborative research in the humanities, we would prefer to see proposals from early- and mid-career faculty members. However, active emeritus faculty are not excluded from working as project leaders, project coordinators, or participants as their affiliated university considers them eligible and has a mechanism in place to spend the funds.

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How many awards will be given out in each round of the HWW Grand Research Challenge?

There is no predetermined number of awards.

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Is there a range for budgets for the HWW Grand Research Challenges?

“The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate” funding initiative will disburse up to $1.5 million in three annual funding cycles. We strongly encourage scholarly teams to think expansively in budgetary terms, and to consider the costs of collaboration across the life of the grant and of public dissemination as they develop their budgets. We welcome proposals with budgets of $100,000, and remind scholars that this amount should not include the amounts (up to $42,000) allocated to support graduate student stipends (i.e., total budgets may equal up to $142,000, including graduate student stipend funding).

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Who will determine which HWW Grand Research Challenge proposals receive funding?

The determination of which HWW Grand Research Challenge proposals to fund will be made by a team of external reviewers comprising humanities scholars of repute. We seek to protect the integrity of the review process by keeping their identities confidential. This is in line with the best practices of the NEH, NEA and other agencies who provide humanities funding on a competitive basis. Reviewer information is never made public, because applicants should not be able to contact reviewers either before or after the decisions have been made.

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Can we collaborate with non-consortium universities, corporations, or other institutions that are not part of the consortium?

The key issue here is that Mellon funds cannot be shared with or awarded to research partners and/or collaborators who are not based at a HWW consortial institution. You are free to name collaborators from non-HWW universities (in the Midwest and otherwise) and/or corporations and to propose working with them, but those partners absolutely cannot receive any of the HWW Mellon funds (e.g., no subawards, no transferring of funds from your institution to these other partners, etc.).

So, as a general principle, the grant funds are to be used exclusively by consortial partners, but there will surely be many instances where consortial partners must pay honoraria or other types of fees to people who are NOT connected to partner institutions. In those cases, it makes no sense to force our partners to avoid working with non-consortial associates, particularly in light of the creative, collaborative nature of the grant.

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How should non-consortium collaborators be listed in our application?

You will need to distinguish clearly between “non-consortial partners” and “service providers” in your proposal, and between “fund-sharing” with non-consortial institutions/collaborators/partners and “contracting for services” (e.g., booking a venue, paying an honorarium to a non-consortial speaker, hiring a film director, etc.—all activities that common sense would indicate are allowed by the terms of the grant, because these entities are not research “partners” but “service providers”). The terms of the grant explicitly disallow fund-sharing with non-consortial partners (i.e., members of the research team from non-consortial institutions), but allow common sense expenditures on service contracts and providers. “Service providers” are allowable under the terms of our grant, as long as the proposal represents their services unmistakably as work performed for a specific fee.

We urge you to contact your institution’s Grants & Contracts Office (or the equivalent) to ensure that your expenses are allowable from their perspective. We are relying to a large extent on our consortial partners’ G&C offices for guidance in situations like this.

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Can I be involved in more than one research challenge project?

We advise scholars to put their efforts into one extremely well-crafted proposal, rather than extending themselves over more than one, but we are not placing any restrictions on faculty/research center involvement and are not imposing any limits, apart from common sense (i.e., avoiding overextension on the part of a researcher and/or center). Excellence of proposed research will be the primary criteria for determining which proposals to fund but we suspect our reviewers will quite naturally seek to spread the awards around in a manner that allows maximum participation throughout the consortium. They might look askance at making multiple awards to the same scholar, even if that person is assuming different roles on different projects. The key issue is the reasonableness of having scholars involved in multiple projects since overextension can swamp a project rather rapidly.

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Can the proposal narrative required as part of the HWW Grand Research Challenge application include other support materials (i.e. 3D models, video clips, letters of support, etc.)?

It is best not to include anything in the application packet that is not required, but supporting materials may be included in the application narrative if they assist in explaining the objectives of the proposed project. Because the HWW Grand Research Challenge funding application must consist of a single PDF file, all supporting materials need to be incorporated into this file.

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For Awardees


How should recipients of grant funds list the specific HWW Grand Research Challenge on publicity materials?

All products and publicity emanating from these funds should state the following:

“This project is supported by the Humanities Without Walls consortium, based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Humanities Without Walls consortium is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.”

Additionally, recipients are advised to use the HWW logos in their products and publicity, although we do not yet have a firm requirement in place that they do so. You can download the HWW logo from our website.

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What are Grand Research Challenge funds allowed and not allowed to be used for?

Grant awardees must use allocated funds only according to the budget approved in the award.

Allowable Expenditures

Summer Salaries: Summer salaries are allowable but must not total more than $10,000 per participant (not including applicable fringe benefits) and should comprise no more than 20% of the award budget (again, not including applicable fringe benefits). Proposals for co-teaching across institutional boundaries are also allowable.

Graduate Students: Graduate assistant stipends are allowable, but not tuition remission. In order to support the graduate humanities lab practicum component of the research challenge, “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate,” funding has been specifically allocated to support up to two graduate programs per project via stipend. Proposal budgets should include a $10,500 stipend for each of the two graduate students ($21,000 total for two students per year) for the duration of the project’s period of performance, with tuition and fee waivers to be generated by each home institution. If tuition and fee waiver cannot secured from the home institution(s) of one or both graduate students, the $21,000 can be disbursed as summer money. This is intended to establish a floor for the proportion of the grant that may go to graduate student support. Budgets and statements of work may provide more graduate student support, but the funds in question must come from the “general” budget and not the funding specifically allocated for graduate student support. Project leaders and coordinator(s) should review the institutional guidelines at the graduate students’ home institutions to determine if there are limits placed on total graduate support.

Equipment: Purchases of digital recorders, microphones, and other similar equipment are allowable only if they are essential to conducting the proposed research; such expenses should be justified in the budget proposal and detailed in project reporting.

Food: Catering and other foods costs should be moderated wherever possible; all such proposed costs should be called-out and broken-down in the proposal budget in a detailed manner that indicates your home institution’s upper spending limit per meal. As well, we ask that the costs for receptions be kept moderate and within budget. You should consult your home universities’ policies before budgeting for catering and/or food, as these policies may dictate whether or not these purchases can be made using sponsored funds. Please note that you do not need to include per diem for invited speakers and conference participants in the food/catering budget, so long as these costs are allowable by your home universities. Alcohol cannot be purchased using grant funds.

Prohibited Expenditures

The following expenditures are not allowable:

  • Course buyouts
  • General computer purchases
  • Tuition & fee remits for graduate students. Tuition and fee waivers for the graduate lab practicum must be generated by each home institution, or, if tuition and fee waiver cannot secured from the home institution(s) of one or both graduate students, the $21,000 can be disbursed as summer money
  • Postdoctoral fellowships are not allowable
  • Alcohol
  • Indirect cost recovery or discretionary fund pools

Any funds not used for the purposes awarded and declared in the approved budget will return to the consortium.

All funds are to be spent toward development of faculty projects related to the Grand Research Challenge. Grant recipients must also follow and adhere to their home institutions’ policies for allowable expenditures.

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What information should be included in proposal budgets?

The proposal budget should constitute your best estimate of the project’s total costs. Costs to consider in planning a robust budget include personnel and fringe benefits, materials and supplies, travel, and participant costs. The budget justification should explain the budget in sufficient detail to provide a clear understanding of the necessity and basis for all proposed costs.

The amount of each award will vary according to the budgetary requirements detailed in each application, and we strongly encourage proposal teams to think expansively in budgetary terms. The upper award limit for each project is $142,000, including the required $42,000 allocated to graduate student stipends.

Acceptable budget items include air and ground travel, hotel/accommodations, speaker fees/honoraria, venue fees, copying/reproduction costs, publicity costs, graduate student assistantship stipends, and hourly research assistant costs.

Please see the Research Challenge RFP for budgetary guidance for specific types of expenses.

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How will HWW Grand Research Challenge funds be disbursed after being awarded?

After the HWW Grand Research Challenge funding decisions are made, HWW will send an award letter to the project leader which will describe in detail the specific requirements of invoicing, reporting, deadlines, etc. Awarded funds will be held at the University of Illinois and will be disbursed to the project leader university after HWW has been invoiced for expenses incurred against the funds. (Similarly, the project leader university will issue subawards to all collaborating university partners, with similar invoicing.) The project leader and project coordinator(s) will want to check with their home institutions (e.g., Office of Sponsored Programs, etc.) to ascertain their institution’s policies for administering these funds in order to ensure compliance with any rules and best practices. Project leaders and coordinator(s) will also want to communicate with their department business managers to establish “anticipation accounts” from which they can incur project costs while awaiting reimbursement of project invoices.

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If we have multiple co-PIs, who should manage the funds?

We require you to designate one of your co-PIs as the “official” PI, which we refer to as the “project leader.” The requested funds will be issued to the project leader university as a subaward and should be managed by the project leader in consultation with their business office, Sponsored Program office, and Humanities Center. Funds from this overall subaward will in turn flow down to collaborators via subawards issued by the project leader university. Each of these collaborating universities should also have a single point of contact and administration, which we refer to as the “project coordinator,” who will be responsible for overseeing all funds awarded to their university.

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What do we do if we need to re-budget a project after the award has been issued?

If the planned re-budget is a 20% or less change in allocation between two budget lines, you will need to inform HWW of the change but will not need to submit any supporting documentation.

If there is going to be a significant change (i.e., greater than 20%) in allocation between budget lines, you will need to request a re-budgeting from HWW and provide a revised budget, budget justification narrative, and statement of work, and the re-budgeting request must be approved by HWW before you move forward with the re-budgeting.

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What do we do if we need to extend the project timeline in order to complete the proposed scope of work?

In order to request what it called a no-cost extension (NCE), you need to inform HWW of your intention to extend the project’s timeline and provide a new end date, along with a revised statement of work indicating the proposed changes in the project’s timeline. If the extended timeline will impact your project budget, you will also need to supply a revised budget and revised budget justification narrative along with the revised statement of work. We will consider two NCEs per project, so please consider timelines carefully when you design or revise your project.

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Are there any restrictions on which university a team should use as the “project leader university” (i.e., the administrative home) for its proposal?

We have no preference on this aspect of the application process. Please use whichever university makes the most sense for your project, which will probably be the university receiving the largest proportion of the awarded funds. The choice of administrative home university will have no bearing on the outcome of proposal selection.

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What information should be included in funding expenditures reports?

In preparing the midterm and final reports for Humanities Without Walls, project leaders or their delegates should include narratives explaining any budget amounts or items whose intent, purpose, or benefit to the project is unclear or ambiguous. This narrative should be included as an attachment to the budget only if there are expenses whose purposes or relevance to the proposed research is not self-evident. You should not include this budget narrative in the proposal narrative, which has a restricted word length. It is our hope that the reporting process will be simplified and streamlined by including all information that clarifies potentially unclear expenses when initially submitting reports.

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How should recipients of HWW Grand Research Challenge awards list the award and their participation in the collaborative project on their curricula vitae and résumés?

This is question does not yet have a simple answer, in part because formal collaborative research in the humanities is still in a nascent state. Seth Denbo, director of scholarly communication and digital initiatives at the American Historical Association, discusses these larger questions about collaboration and the question of credit in a 2017 commentary in the AHA’s news magazine Perspectives on History.

HWW collaborative teams have begun to work on this question themselves, and have shared different models for us to share in turn, in the spirit of collaboration.

For PIs and Co-PIs:

Professor X, Principal Investigator. Co-Principal Investigator Professor Y. Collaborative sponsored project: “Project title.” The Humanities Without Walls consortium, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Date of award. Amount of award.

For research team members:

Professor X, Researcher/Collaborator. Collaborative sponsored project: "Project title." PI/Co-PIs Professor A, B, and C. The Humanities Without Walls consortium, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Date of award. Amount of award.

We also highly recommend working with your departments, colleges, and disciplinary colleagues to determine which citation style(s) are most appropriate for your particular contexts.

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