Request for Proposals: the work of the humanities in a changing climate

Application Deadline: October 31st, 2017, 5:00 p.m., Central Time


The Humanities Without Walls consortium invites applications for funding from cross-institutional teams of faculty and graduate students wishing to collaboratively pursue research topics related to “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate.”

This 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. We seek 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 do 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.

Applicants may propose research designed to serve public policy or other applied outcomes, though this is not required. Proposals that deal with climate change and research that explores more metaphoric meanings of “changing climate” are equally welcome as long as they are interdiscjplinary and intentionally collaborative. In other words, scholars invested in “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate” research initiative can pursue specifically environmental studies topics or they can choose to interpret climate change broadly across range of times and places. Above all, applications should nominate a clear and concise research problem and make a persuasive case for the cross-institutional partnerships involved. Examples of previously funded projects may be found on the Humanities Without Walls website.

Proposal Components

Graduate Humanities Lab Practicum

Proposals should include a detailed Graduate Humanities Lab Practicum experience for graduate students involved in the research project. Given that HWW projects are experiments in collaboration, dedicating time and resources to thinking collectively about collaborative practice is key to the overall success of the research experience. The Grad Lab Practicum offers a way for graduate students to shape the forms that collaborative practice takes and to help the research group reflect on the limits and possibilities of collaboration in the context of the project as a whole.

Collaborators should consider spaces and forms typically available in university settings—e.g., the chemistry lab, design studio, and research seminar—as models for how best to organize their work, but the specific design and implementation of the practicum experience is up to the research group. Ideas for what a Humanities Lab Practicum could and should look like will arise out of the intellectual content of research projects themselves, with graduate students as equal partners. So, for example, the collaborative research practices that might emerge from environmental histories in medieval Europe would likely be quite different from those that stem from curating the climate of racial micro-aggressions in the wake of Ferguson (to give two hypothetical examples). Proposals should detail how the Grad Lab practicum is to be structured so that the graduate students involved end up with an understanding of what collaboration means for humanities scholars across fields and institutions.

It is possible that in some cases, projects would benefit most from graduate students doing a critical ethnography of the research collaboration itself, rather than engaging in research that is not directly connected to their dissertation work. Regardless of the structure, and in keeping with more traditional research methods, proposals will need to link the design of the collaborative practice design itself to the substance of the research, and vice versa.

The Humanities Without Walls renewal grant includes funding specifically allocated for the Graduate Humanities Lab Practicum. Proposal budgets must include a $10,500 stipend for two graduate students ($21,000 total/year) for two years of the project period. Tuition and fee waivers must be generated by each home institution, as they are not an allowable on the HWW grant. If a tuition and fee waiver cannot be secured from the home institution of one or both graduate students, the $21,000 can be disbursed as summer money. Participating graduate students may be from the primary and/or collaborating institutions. The minimum of two graduate student participants is per project, not per institution.

Engaging with Undergraduates

All collaborators on funded proposals also commit to showcasing their results to undergraduates on their campus and/or beyond. As with our approach to the Graduate Humanities Lab Practicum, we leave the format for such engagement open to the collaborators. Many of the consortium partner humanities centers have established mechanisms for linking undergraduates to their events and mission and they will be encouraged to make use of those channels to help guarantee undergraduate participation. All proposals are required to elaborate their ideas for such presentations and to budget accordingly.


Finally, one of the biggest challenges of any multi-sited project is planning for the collaboration process—not just up front or on the fly but all along the way. Proposals should include discussion of how collaborative ambitions and practices will be structured across the life of the grant. This might include a description of when and how brainstorming will happen; evidence of planning and budgeting for one or two face-to-face meetings beyond a conference or workshop; or a description of workflows and/or a calendar of shared intellectual/organizing labor. Details of the structural and financial aspects of collaboration can be found in the Budget Guidance section.

Scholars may find more information about the projects funded through the previous grand research challenge, “The Global Midwest,” on the HWW website. The selection criteria for “Changing Climate” projects may also be found on the HWW website and can provide additional insight into what previous selection committees have sought in terms of strong, compelling, well-designed proposals.


Qualified project leaders will be tenure-line faculty at any of the Humanities Without Walls consortium institutions,*  and each collaborating university’s “sub-team” must be led by a tenure-line faculty member who will serve as that sub-team’s project coordinator.**

In order to be eligible for funding, research teams must include scholars from at least two consortial institutions. Research teams may also include collaborators from non-consortial institutions, with the understanding that these participants may not receive any Humanities Without Walls funds except as contracted service-providers (e.g., advising on archival resources, presenting at an event or workshop, facilitating connections to activist groups, contributing photography or artwork for publications, providing other specialized services under contract).

The project leader and project coordinator(s) must also come from a discipline within the humanities and/or arts, but teams may include scholars from any discipline.

Duration and Awards

The project period for all awards will be January 1st, 2018 to December 31st, 2020. All allocated funds awarded to research teams must be expended by no later than December 31, 2020 without exception. A midterm progress report, including detailed financial information, is due by December 31, 2018.

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.

You are strongly encouraged to work with your home university’s Office of Proposal Development or equivalent to ensure that your proposal meets all of the requirements in this RFP and also complies with your home university’s policies on sponsored research. All applicants are required to include a letter of institutional support as part of their proposal.

Project leaders and project coordinators should contact their Humanities Center, department chair, and college dean (when applicable) no later than October 1, 2017 with an email indicating intent to apply for this challenge, the project title, and all external collaborators and their institutions.

Recipients must submit a signed agreement form indicating the project leader’s responsibility for managing and reporting on the use of all grant funds, before award funds will be released. Recipients must also be prepared to work closely with those administering sub award grants on their campuses, typically the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Grants and Contracts Office, or equivalents.

Application Requirements

  • Completed Signature Page and Application Checklist
  • Abstract of proposal (no more than 200 words).
  • Proposal narrative of no more than 2,500 words. This must include:
    • Description of project.
    • Detailed plan of work, including:
      • Plans for the Graduate Lab Practicum.
      • Plans for Undergraduate Outreach.
      • Comprehensive plan for institutional collaboration across the life of the grant.
    • Detailed work schedule including detailed list of activities from 1/1/2018 through 12/31/2020.
    • Role(s) and expected intellectual contributions of project participants.
    • Significance of project and its relationship to the “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate.”
    • Statement of proposed outcomes.
  • Detailed budget and budget justification explaining and justifying all items in the budget (see Budget Guidance below). All proposals must use the budget template and budget justification forms provided on the HWW website.
  • Name and contact information for the departmental-level financial manager at the lead institution. This should be the individual the project leader works with on a day-to-day basis, for financial and grant management.
  • CV for project leader and all research participants, including all graduate students (2-pages maximum per CV, should include publications and activities relevant to the proposed project).
  • List of names and contact information for everyone participating in the project for whom you are submitting CVs, along with a brief description of their individual intellectual contributions to the collaboration. Clearly indicate project leader and coordinators.
  • Letter of Intent from the Project Leader University. This letter indicates that the proposal has been reviewed and approved at an institutional level and is typically provided by your sponsored projects office.

Budget Guidance

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.

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.

In general, the budget justification should explain the methodology by which the budget numbers were calculated. For example, for a salary calculation, instead of indicating “1 month summer salary - $10,000,” you might write, “1 month summer salary @ base salary $90,000 on 9/12 appointment=$10,000. A narrative description of each individual’s role in the project would also be appropriate.

Similarly, for travel expenses, please provide detailed information regarding each trip. For example, “4 trips per year to meet with collaborative institution X. Hotel: 3 nights @100 night=$300; Airfare: $250, Per Diem: 50/day x 3=$150. Total per trip $700 x 4 =$2800.”

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). All positions for which summer salary is requested should be named and described in the budget & budget justification. The determination of each summer salary must be spelled out explicitly in the budget justification.

Food and catering costs are allowable but (1) must constitute no more than 3% of the total budget, (2) must be called-out and broken-down in the budget justification in a detailed manner which indicated your home institution’s upper spending per meal, an estimate of the number of attendees; a robust justification must be provided for the inclusion of these expenses.

Faculty salary replacements, staff salaries, basic equipment purchases (such as computers), and alcoholic beverages included in costs for meals/receptions related to projects will not be funded. Indirect costs are not allowed.

See the FAQ on the HWW website for more detailed information on allowable expenses. All expenditures must be made in keeping with the relevant universities’ guidelines and best practices related to purchases, procurements, and travel.

Sub Awards

Each project will have at least one lead and one collaborating institution. Structurally, the lead institution will receive the full award and then issue a sub award to the collaborating partner (s). Each sub award collaborator should complete an institutional letter of support, statement of work, budget form and budget justification form and submit it to the lead institution. These materials should be included with the primary applicant’s proposal.

Budget and Budget Justification Forms

The budget forms are available on the HWW website at the links below. The budget spreadsheet is designed to capture the pertinent financial information within the categories provided. Thus, only the gray areas of the spreadsheet are editable. All expenses for your project should fit into one of the existing budget categories. If you find that you need to alter the budget form, please contact Grants Specialist Jenna Zieman ( for assistance.

The budget justification form provides an outline of the categories on the budget spreadsheet. Please complete it using the justification guidance above.

Applicants will know the results of the competition by the end of December 2017. Funds will be awarded to successful recipients as quickly as possible after the decision date with the expectation that work will commence as soon as possible following the award announcement. Those with concerns that delays in the issuance of funding will result in delays in their research timelines should work with their departmental or college business offices and sponsored programs offices (or equivalent) to establish any necessary anticipation accounts.

* Consortial institutions include Indiana University Bloomington, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Notre Dame, and University of Wisconsin‐Madison.

** “Project leader” refers to the individual responsible for overseeing the entire proposal, i.e., the Principal Investigator or PI. “Project coordinator” refers to the individual responsible for overseeing a particular university’s component portion of the proposal, i.e., the “sub-PI.” All such positions should comprise tenure-line faculty.