Starting-up a Digital Proposal

The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1995 established the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency that promotes research, education and public programming in the humanities. In conjunction with those aims, the NEH provides start-up grants for innovative projects in the Digital Humanities. To apply, a detailed proposal must be submitted explaining not only the digital idea and methods of implementation, but the significance to the humanities community.

The proposal required to apply for the start-up grant is comparable in some ways to the print proposal assigned in class.  The narrative section of the NEH application is meant to give an overview of the initial project ideas, the ultimate result of the project, and how the suggested methodology will benefit the overall intellectual goals. Also it is in this section that the history of the project is presented along with the preliminary planning that has taken place in the field. It is the narrative that is most closely linked to the print proposal. Both ask for the plan to be grounded in the context of the present state of research. While the print project was set within the framework of current literature, the NEH focuses on what they term the “environmental scan”, a summary of the digital work being done in the same field as a way to explain how the applicant’s project relates or contributes to the existing body of work.

A digital proposal has additional facets that do not really need to be taken into consideration in terms of a print project. First, the audience of a print project is generally assumed to be historians and other scholars. In a digital proposal, however, the audience of the tool needs to be fully flushed out, even going so far as to create the type of individual personas discussed at length by Brown. Second, the NEH application asks for a plan of dissemination for the final digital product. Through which media outlets will the project be propagated to the desired audiences? Not only that, but a statement of how will the product be maintained in the long-run is required. Also, the NEH application necessitates a list of the project staff and their responsibilities. Staff is not an issue in regards to print proposals which are produced on a much more individualized basis. Finally, the NEH has a system for determining the “innovativeness” of a project and applicants must prove their idea “innovative” based on those guidelines.

Specifically, the Kansas State University application regarding the Lost Kansas project (which did win an NEH start-up grant) aptly demonstrates the distinct questions involved in a digital project proposal as opposed to a print proposal. The application lays out how their project will advance the way that students do primary research and how communal histories are preserved. In detail, the leaders of the project set the staff responsibilities, the yearly work goals, the plan of dissemination, the history of the project idea itself. Although more in-depth than the digital project proposal required for our course, the Lost Kansas premise is good model for where to begin developing and organizing your ideas.

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