Humanities without walls 2021 grand Research challenge
Request for Proposals


PI Eligibility: Tenure-line faculty in the humanities or humanistic social sciences
Award amount: Up to $150,000
Project Period: January 1st, 2022–December 31st, 2024
Application Deadline: November 15th, 2021, Midnight, Central Time
How to Submit: Proposals should be emailed as a single PDF to

This RFP is also available as a downloadable PDF

Humanities Without Walls: The Grand Research Challenge Initiative

What does humanities collaboration look like when it is multi-sited as well as interdisciplinary: when scholars from a variety of institutions and communities come together to partner not just in discrete research projects, but in the broader context of rethinking the direction of humanities research and education as well? And what can humanities research and practice do to turn our attention to the most compelling and urgent questions of our time—global displacement, police violence, water and food justice, multiracial community-building, racial disparities in health, indigenous art and activism—so that scholars move continuously across that porous boundary between the academic and the world? How, in short, can we design a humanities ecosystem that is truly “without walls?”

Humanities Without Walls (HWW) has been testing these propositions since 2014. A consortium linking 16 research universities in the Midwest and beyond, HWW has developed a range of interdisciplinary research teams through over three dozen unique collaborative project awards. These teams, funded by Grand Research Challenge Awards in the first two iterations of the grant (2015-2018), showcase what is possible when humanists have resources dedicated to imagining their research in ways that move beyond the single investigator model or the monograph as a singular outcome.

In 2021, HWW remains committed to supporting models for partnership and collective thinking about the nature and character of humanities work in the world at scale. We do so because we believe this is a strategic method for building racial and social justice, as well as diversity, equity and access, into the structural heart of truly transformative work. In this 2021 Grand Research Challenge competition cycle, we not only renew our commitment to these principles, we reiterate it by explicitly calling for proposals that prioritize reciprocal and redistributive collaborations with external partners, whether those are local/regional education institutions or community organizations. Our aim is to develop sustainable practices which guarantee that equitable, non-extractive structures and ways of working are embedded in intellectual collaborative projects—so that they will occupy a more prominent place in the long-range transformations of academic culture in the humanities to which HWW contributes.

HWW 2021: Reciprocity and Redistribution

Humanities Without Walls invites applications for interdisciplinary, collaborative, research-based projects in the humanities and arts that build a clearly communicated commitment to methodologies of reciprocity and redistribution into their project design and proposal narratives, regardless of the research topic or theme they focus on.

Reciprocity and redistribution are methods for engaging collaborators in genuinely equal and ethical partnerships—partnerships that are not one-directional (i.e., only from campus outward) or faculty-centered (i.e., hierarchical in ways that privilege presumptively white western scholarly expertise over other forms of knowing).

Reciprocity and redistribution are strategies for equity-based change by design. These strategies aim to challenge the academic status quo by enabling community partners to participate on their own terms; to co-design and co-create transformative projects; and to be equitably resourced for their time and contributions.

A commitment to practices of reciprocity and redistribution also opens up possibilities for new forms of collaboration between faculty and graduate students and staff; between HWW partner universities and regional and community colleges; between HWW projects and Predominantly White Institutions and Minority Serving Institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges; and/or between each campus and its variety of public and community stakeholders.

Taken together, reciprocal and redistributive methods are aimed at attracting a diverse set of HWW intellectual leaders and cultivating socially and racially equitable methods for sustaining their vision and their work.

Through modes of research partnership that are reciprocal and redistributive, collaborators will demonstrate that “humanities without walls” is not only a metaphor but also a strategic commitment to imagining and doing academic work more inclusively—with universal access, social equity and racial diversity always front of mind.

Applicants may propose research designed to serve public policy or other applied outcomes, though this is not required. 

Above all, applications should nominate a clear and concise research problem and embed reciprocal and redistributive strategies and practices in the addressing of that research problem.

You can find more information about the projects funded through the previous Grand Research Challenges on the HWW website. For a set of talks on the 2021 CFP and the ways that scholars at Illinois have practiced reciprocity and redistribution, view our HWW Research Methods and Ethics info sessions and workshops page.

What to Prioritize in Your Proposal

  • A collaboratively defined research question with a detailed rationale for its relevance to “Humanities Without Walls”; a detailed description of the main components of the project
  • Evidence of how partnership, through reciprocity and redistribution, structures the project design, its processes, and its proposed outcomes; and of how this partnership model can be seen in the formulation of the research question and in plans for all the activities across the life of the grant
  • Description of all research team participants, including key external collaborative partners, and how they have been built into all aspects of grant activity, including proposal planning; discussion of plans for structuring genuinely collaborative partnerships and mentoring for graduate students into all aspects of the project’s work
  • Discussion of how the research project can serve as a model for how to build inclusive, reciprocal and redistributive practices that are portable and sustainable beyond the award
  • Description of plans for public- or community-facing events or dissemination of outcomes, including undergraduate students


To be eligible for funding, research teams must:

  • include participants from one HWW consortial partner institution and one of more of the following:
    • Regional and Community Colleges
    • Predominantly Minority Serving Institutions
    • Historically Black Colleges and Universities
    • Tribal Colleges and Universities
    • Community organizations

The Principal Investigator (PI) on the primary project must be tenure-line faculty at any of the Humanities Without Walls consortial institutions. 

If partnering with one or more HWW consortial partner institutions, the PIs on the collaborating universities’ subawards must also be tenure-line faculty members.

The PI on the primary project must also come from a discipline within the humanities and/or arts, but teams may include scholars from any discipline.

For-profit entities are not eligible to be project partners.

Duration and Awards

The project period for all awards will be January 1st, 2022 to December 31st, 2024. All allocated funds awarded to research teams must be expended by no later than December 31, 2024 without exception. Annual progress reports, including detailed financial information, are due to the HWW Director of Operations by October 1 of each year of the project period, beginning in 2022.

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 $150,000.

You must work with your home university’s Office of Proposal Development or equivalent to ensure that your proposal meets all of the requirements in this CFP 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.

PIs and subaward PIs should contact their HWW consortial partners, department chairs, and college deans (when applicable) no later than October 1, 2021 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 PI’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 subaward grants on their campuses, typically the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Grants and Contracts Office, or equivalents.

Application Requirements

Applications should be submitted via email to the HWW Director of Operations at Applications must consist of a single PDF file which incorporates all of the following materials:

  • Completed Signature Page and Application Checklist
  • Abstract of proposal (no more than 200 words)
  • Proposal narrative of no more than 2,000 words. This is a descriptive rationale of your research-based project, which includes evidence of:
    • Commitment to methods, strategies, and practices of reciprocity and redistribution with non-university partners
    • Plans for graduate partnership and collaboration
    • Plans for collaborative partnership across the life of the grant
    • Plans for public- or community-facing events and dissemination
    • Significance of project and its relationship to “Humanities Without Walls”
    • Identification of proposed outcomes
  • Detailed work schedule including detailed list of activities from January 1st, 2022 through December 31st, 2024. Work schedule should take into account multiple, differential outcomes resulting from COVID-19 pandemic contingencies
  • Role(s) and expected intellectual contributions of project participants
  • Detailed budget and budget justification explaining and justifying all items in the budget (see Budget Guidance below.) All proposals must use the budget 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 PI works with on a day-to-day basis, for financial and grant management.
  • CV for PI 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 PI and any PIs on subaward.
  • Letter of Intent from the home university of the PI on the primary project. 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. The budget design should reflect the priorities of reciprocity and redistribution through equitable remuneration of all collaborative partners, whether they be institutions of higher education, community partners and/or graduate students.

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.”

Consultant fees/costs, honoraria, or stipends for Community Research Collaborators should reflect acceptable processes within the PI's institutional structure for remuneration for non-university contractors. Justification should include the amount and timing for these funds and whether distribution will be re-occurring ($1,000 per month for 12 months=$12,000); paid per specific time period or consultation ($100 per day of in-community research @ estimated 50 days=$5,000); or by project component ($500 for write-up or review of research materials).  

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. 


In projects with two or more collaborating HWW institutions, there must be a lead institution. The lead institution will receive the full award and then issue subawards to any collaborating institution. Each subaward PI 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 project proposal to HWW.

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 Business Operations and Grants Manager 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 2021. 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.

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