Humanities Without Walls links the humanities at 16 research universities throughout the Midwest and beyond.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded approximately $12,200,000 to the Humanities Research Institute (HRI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to fund eleven years of an extensive consortium of sixteen partners in the Midwest and beyond. By leveraging the strengths of multiple distinctive campuses, the consortium, titled Humanities Without Walls (HWW), 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 consortium was initially funded in 2014 with a $3 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, was renewed in 2016 with an additional $4.2 million, and was renewed for a second time in 2020 with an additional $5 million.

HWW, led by HRI Director and Principal Investigator Antoinette Burton, makes possible two initiatives: (1) summer workshops for pre-doctoral students in the humanities who desire to explore diverse careers in which they can use their expertise and credentials, both inside and outside the academy, and (2) funding for cross-institutional teams of faculty and graduate students pursuing research that focuses on a grand intellectual challenge.

Two cohorts comprising approximately 60 doctoral students from the consortial universities participated in the first two pre-doctoral workshops in the summers of 2015 and 2016, with another 30 participating in 2018. The initial successes of these workshops led HWW to extend the call for applications to a national audience. Consequently 30 students from schools as far afield as Marquette University, the University of Hawai’i, Florida International University, MIT, and Columbia University have participated in the summer 2017 and 2019 workshops. A total of nearly 150 Fellows have participated in this workshop since its inception.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, HWW plans to host its first virtual, national Pre-Doctoral Career Diversity Summer Workshop in summer 2021; the Call for Applications will be available in fall 2020.

The first Grand Research Challenge focused on the theme of “The Global Midwest” and supported collaborative research which rethinks and reveals the Midwest as a key site—both now and in the past—in shaping global economies and cultures. The second Grand Research Challenge, begun in 2016, 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?

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 Bloomington, Marquette University (who joined the consortium in 2020), 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 Chicago Humanities Festival also served as a key intellectual and infrastructural partner for the project from its inception through 2018.

The 21st century presents a clear and pressing need to mobilize the collective resources of the heartland’s institutions of higher education in collaborative ways. 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 through the cultivation and funding of major initiatives.

HWW is the first consortium to experiment at this large scale with cross-institutional collaboration.

Humanities Without Walls Statement on Academic Freedom

The Humanities Without Walls consortium stands committed to the principles of academic freedom, free speech, and shared governance that are central to the maintenance of excellence at all universities. In our collaborations, we uphold these standards, encouraging dialogue across disciplinary divides and among scholars, students, and community members, no matter how challenging or difficult the topics may be. As a consortium that grants funds provided by a private foundation, we act together to promote these goals and to advance the standards outlined by the American Association of University Professors.