Funding the Digital Humanities: A conversation with Mr. Brett Bobley

“adicel20”, a student enrolled in this semester’s ENG 5998 reading group, reflects on categories or types of advice provided by the Director of the Office of Digital Humanities:

On April 8, 2015, the Digital Scholars Group at Florida State University had the opportunity to converse with Mr. Brett Bobley, Chief Information Officer of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and Director of the Office of Digital Humanities. Mr. Bobley joined us via teleconference and gave us a few tips on the most important criteria the NEH uses when deciding whom to award grants to. The discussion centered on the Digital Humanities grant programs, which include: the DH Start-up Grants, the DH Implementation Grants, the Humanities Open-Book Program and the Training Programs for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities. The DH Start-up Grants Program, Mr. Bobley told us, is typically rewarding “new innovative and interesting ideas”, while the DH Implementation Grants support projects that already went through a successful start-up phase and proved their feasibility. The Humanities Open-Book Program, Mr. Bobley explained, is more of a “digitization program”, which seeks to find a larger audience for scholarly, out-of-print humanities books by providing open, online access to them, under a Creative Commons License. The Summer Training Grants Program is a very popular option for scholars and graduate students interested in advancing their knowledge of Digital Humanities. The grants offer the opportunity to study for a few days or for several weeks at multiple locations associated with the Institutes for Advanced Training in the Digital Humanities.

Answering some of the questions addressed by the audience, Mr. Bobley remarked that the NEH generally looks for two main components in each application: the intellectual aspect of the proposal (“the right idea” or “the great idea”) and the technological support of the project. In discussing the second aspect, he emphasised the importance of having the “right team”, the appropriate “human infrastructure” for the project, even if that requires teaming up with a scholar from another institution. He also recommends that proposals should be written for a general audience and avoid very specific jargon and terminology, since the peer review panel is a diverse team, comprised of scholars from various fields (humanities, computer scientists, information scientists and librarians). And although the NEH is typically looking for projects that have “an immediate impact” on the society and on the general public at large, it also supports ideas “that have potential down the road”, innovative approaches that lead to interesting discoveries in time.

We thank Mr. Bobley for his very informative talk and we hope his tips and suggestions will help many scholars write successful grant applications with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).


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