Getting Funding For Your Digital Project

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Digital Humanities Advancement Grants (DHAG)

DHAG offer financial support to innovative digital projects that “enhance scholarly research, teaching, and public programming in the humanities.” Grants are available at different monetary levels for projects in three different stages: early-stage planning (Level 1, $10,000-$50,000), development (Level 2, $50,001-$100,000), and implementation (Level 3, $100,001-$325,000). The main part of the grant proposal is the narrative, which requires a detailed discussion of the projects goals, how those goals will be accomplished, and how the project will be disseminated. The NEH highly values project accessibility to the general public and that is apparent in the requirements for every section of the narrative.

THE NARRATIVE — 5 MAIN ELEMENTS

  1. Enhancing the Humanities: How does this project provide intellectual value to both scholars and general audiences?
    • What is the scope of the project?
    • What do you intend to do?
    • What are potential problems in your project?
    • Why does this project matter?
      • The more people who have access to or benefit from this project, the more it “matters.”
  2. Environmental Scan: Is this type of project or a similar project already being conducted by someone else? If so, why is your approach better?
    • You should show awareness for what other work is being done in the field and how your project contributes. Consider other ways this project could be accomplished by using existing resources.
  3. History of the Project: Provide a concise overview of the work that has already been done on this project and any financial or material support that has been received.
    • Include:
      • Preliminary research and planning
      • Previous financial support
      • Publications produced
      • Resources or research facilities available
      • Plans for work that would take place after the period of performance
      • Sources of support for subsequent phases of the project
  4. Work Plan: How will this project be accomplished and who will do the work? How will the effectiveness of the project be evaluated?
    • This section is all about specificity. You need a schedule for important tasks and a detailed account for who will be doing what and when. There should be a discussion on every person who will be involved in the project and how they will be compensated.
    • Identify any problems that may come up and propose strategies to minimize those problems and keep the project on budget and on schedule.
    • Discuss how you will evaluate the effectiveness of your project both in terms of what the project will accomplish and the project’s long-term goals.
    • If your project involves outside participants and/or events, include a detailed discussion on how those participants will be chosen and an agenda for the event.
  5. Final Product and Dissemination: How will you publicize your project?
    • NEH values projects that are accessible to as many audiences as possible. The more accessible, the better.
    • This portion of the narrative should address how project results will be made available to audiences. It requires an explanation for how the results will be made available to individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities.
    • If you are developing a software, consider how it can be made accessible in terms of copyright, distribution, and modification. The “freer” the final product is (i.e. open source software), the better.

Additional Things To Keep in Mind:

  1. Keep your narrative comprehensible to a general audience. Do not assume specialized knowledge. Define all technical terms and do not include jargon.
  2. Address long-term goals.
  3. The most successful projects incorporate multiple perspectives from a variety of disciplines, institutions, and communities.

THE NARRATIVE — AN EXEMPLARY NARRATIVE

James Madison University, Circulating American Magazines, Level II Grant

This is a great example of a successful grant proposal. Although it does not address every component from the NEH’s Grant Guidelines (such as disability accessibility and potential risks for the project), it does address most components. I’ve compiled a selection successful parts from each section that address some of the main components of the Guidelines.

Enhancing the Humanities:

Answers the what:

(1) collect data from rare reports at the Library 
of Congress
(2) compile the data into an SQL database for output
to JSON
(3) design and offer interactive d3 visualizations
of the data for researchers (4)

==> Not just a data collection project.

Answers the intellectual value to both scholars and general audiences:

"Circulation has always been a problem for anyone 
interested in periodicals. From advertisers, who
demanded accurate circulation information for
commercial purposes, to scholars, who struggle to
present accurate information about magazine history
and influence, circulation data has remained difficult
to obtain and verify" (4).

Environmental Scan:

Discusses current projects to digitize magazines (awareness of the field) and their impact on opening up research and educational opportunities. Gives a clear why Circulating American Magazines matters and how it adds to current projects:

“Circulating American Magazines would offer a valuable, 
unique addition to these existing resources by
presenting the most reliable circulation data available,
allowing for a broader and more complex history of
American periodicals to emerge” (6).

Gives examples of research avenues that could be pursued after this project is complete (long-term research impact):

“How did circulation in a given state compare to the 
state’s overall population? Which magazines trended
urban, and which trended rural? What impact did the
onset of the Great Depression have on magazines of
different kinds, of different prices?” (6)

History and Duration of the Project:

The application discusses the motivation for the project, and includes conversations with scholars working with periodicals who support the project. It discusses why the two project heads are interested in the project and the preliminary research they have done (“Hefner made two visits to the Library of Congress, taking 4228 photographs and capturing data for select magazines through the early 1950s,” page 7). It also discusses who is providing technical support (James Hegg of James Madison University’s Center for Instructional Technology) and includes a link to preliminary version of the project. ==> interdisciplinary and more than proof of concept

Work Plan:

Breaks up the project into chunks of time and gives a short overview for the work that will be conducted in that time and who will conduct that work. There is also a breakdown of the staff of the project with their project role and duties.

page 8 — note that this timeline includes what work is being done, how long it should take, and who will do it
page 9

Final Project and Dissemination:

Page 9, This is the full text for this section.

This section includes specific dates for the project’s completion, a testing period, and an outreach period. The final website and data will be free to access and download (AKA very accessible), and the testing period will further increase accessibility by giving tools to use the data and website. Although there is no concrete publicity plan, there is a lead to head publicity and period of time to devote to publicity.

Overall, this narrative gives a clear outline for what the project is, why it will help humanities scholars and students, and a detailed plan for how long it will take and who will do it. Although it uses some technical terms, especially in the Enhancing the Humanities section, it is generally easy to understand to those who are not digitally-savvy. It also shows a clear dedication to producing a highly accessible product in every section of the narrative.

3 Replies to “Getting Funding For Your Digital Project”

  1. Thanks for the great post Emily. I think the example you provided helps me to better understand exactly what it is that the NEH (and likely other grant programs) are looking for. Applications like that are so daunting to me and your post broke it down to a level that makes it seem more manageable. I’m definitely bookmarking this post for the future when I’m applying for different kinds of funding later on in my career!

    1. I’m glad you found the post useful! One of my main takeaways from reading the guidelines and then reading example narratives is that there will never be a perfect grant proposal. None of the exemplary narratives addressed every aspect in the guidelines, but they still got funding. I think it is much more manageable to know that when writing grants, which in and of itself makes grants a bit more accessible.

  2. Emily, you are a superstar for this post. Thanks so much for breaking down the seemingly implacable monolith of securing grant funding into clear steps, and I especially like your point that a grant application need not be perfect to be successful. This isn’t a substantive comment. I just wanted to tell you I appreciate your post!

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