Humanities Without Walls

The Humanities Without Walls consortium links the humanities centers at 15 research universities throughout the Midwest and beyond.

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Click here to link to the Humanities Without Walls website

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded approximately $7,200,000 to the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to fund six years of an extensive consortium of fifteen humanities institutes 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 HWW consortium, led by IPRH Director and Principal Investigator Antoinette Burton, makes possible two initiatives: (1) summer workshops for pre-doctoral students in the humanities who desire to explore careers outside the academy and (2) funding for cross-institutional teams of faculty and graduate students pursuing research that focuses on a grand challenge.

The consortium includes 13 of the institutions that belong to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC)—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 is also serving as a key intellectual and infrastructural partner for the project.

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.

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

Learn more about the Humanities Without Walls consortium on the HWW website

Description of Initiatives

Pre-doctoral Career Diversity Summer Workshops

This project aims to help prepare doctoral students for careers both within and outside the academy through a series of summer workshops.  Graduate students selected for this program will engage in intensive discussions with organizers of public humanities projects, leaders of university presses and learned societies, experts in the various domains of the digital humanities, representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations, and holders of important non-faculty positions in colleges and universities (academic administrators, student services professionals, librarians and archivists, development officers, and so forth).

The three-week workshops, facilitated and directed by the Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF), take place in Chicago. The workshops will bring together cohorts of thirty graduate students, selected in a competition conducted by the humanities centers (for the 2015, 2016, and 2018 summer workshops) and in a limited submission competition drawing on a national applicant pool (for the 2017 and 2019 summer workshops). All participating humanities centers will be responsible for recruiting applicants with broad interdisciplinary interests and with the capacity to represent a broadened vision of life in the humanities upon returning to their campuses. The expectation is that the centers themselves, by engaging with this project, will strengthen their capacity to serve as cross-disciplinary engines for the reorganization of graduate programs in the humanities.

Grand Research Challenge: “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate”

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.


Click here to link to the Humanities Without Walls website