Digital Start-up Proposal

Goal: We have too little time in the course of the semester to complete a major project.  However, we do have time to conceive of a project in detail, which will give you a sense of having to think through disciplinary issues, DH issues, what a project would look like, how it would fit in the intellectual terrain, how it would work, how it would be evaluated, etc.  By writing a full DH project proposal, you will demonstrate your understanding of the intellectual, technological, and logistical issues involved in the practice of DH.

Requirement: You will write a draft submission for a Level 1 NEH Office of Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant.  It will contain all the necessary elements of a grant application, with the exception that the budget will be assumed to be a rough budget, and there will be no letters of commitment and support.  The final version is to be completed and converted to .pdf, and is due no later than Friday, May 6, at 5PM, in the Assignments area of the class canvas site.

You will also do a 500-750 word blog post explaining your project, sometime over the course of the semester, no later than April 27

The proposal must include most of elements of a Level 1 Start-up grant proposal, as elaborated on by the proposal guidelines.

The necessary elements of your proposal are as follows:

  1. Table of contents
  2. List of participants
  3. Abstract
  4. Narrative
  5. Staff (note: this need not identify particular people, only what kind of staff the project might need. For example, coder(s), project manager, graphic designer(s), mapfolder(s), basketweaver(s), whatever)
  6. Product budget (note: this need only be very general, as opposed to the stringent details required by the actual grant)
  7. Data management plan
  8. Appendices

The proposal must very clearly articulate how it meets one of the six objectives in the Office of Digital Humanities Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants guidelines. As listed, they may involve:

  • creating or enhancing experimental, computationally-based methods or techniques for humanities research, teaching, preservation, or public programming;
  • pursuing scholarship that examines the history, criticism, and philosophy of digital culture and its impact on society, or explores the philosophical or practical implications and impact of digital humanities in specific fields or disciplines; or
  • revitalizing and/or recovering existing digital projects that promise to contribute substantively to scholarship, teaching, or public knowledge of the humanities (for further information, see the question about revitalizing existing projects in the Frequently Asked Questions document).

Experimentation, reuse, and extensibility are hallmarks of this grant category, which incorporates the “high risk/high reward” paradigm often used by funding agencies in the sciences. NEH is requesting proposals for projects that take some risks in the pursuit of innovation and excellence. You can find a discussion of the forms that innovation can take in the Frequently Asked Questions document.

Make sure that your project proposal clearly articulates how your project will meet at least one and possibly multiple of these objectives.

Please also consider, as the same document indicates, what will not be funded, and thus the kinds of projects that are not appropriate for this assignment:

  • projects that mainly involve digitization, unless the applicant is proposing an innovative method for digitization;
  • the creation or conversion of a scholarly journal (however, the exploration of or planning for new modes of scholarly publication is allowed);
  • recurring maintenance costs that would support only the day-to-day operations of existing projects rather than substantive changes or upgrades;
  • recurring or established conferences or professional meetings;
  • acquisition of computer equipment or software in excess of 20 percent of the grant total;
  • creative or performing arts;
  • empirical social scientific research;
  • work undertaken in the pursuit of an academic degree;
  • the preparation or publication of textbooks;
  • projects that seek to promote a particular political, religious, or ideological point of view; or
  • projects that advocate a particular program of social action.

A tough question: how do you come up with a budget? This involves a lot of guesstimation. First, to get a sense of how much things costs, check out sample budgets (here’s one, here’s another). They will give you a sense of hourly rates for various kinds of work. Then, ballpark how long you think the task will take if everything worked and everyone were super-efficient. Admittedly, that’s hard, but the idea here is to be very general. Then, take those hourly figures, and multiply them times 1.5. I’m not kidding; that’s just how long things take, and in the grant world, you don’t want to get a reputation for over-promising, and then not delivering. Please note that may fund equipment, but not much.

One big part of the lesson here is that the money for a start-up grant (up to $40,000) actually doesn’t go as far as one might hope, so, while you might think big, and I encourage you to, you may have to restrict the grant to a proof-of-concept or prototype, or even a series of confabs to figure out what, exactly, you’d want to do and how.

Also, the guide instructs “applicants seeking to build or digitize collections, create general-use archives, or develop reference resources like dictionaries and encyclopedias should consider the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources (HCRR) program.”  Also, that “Applicants seeking to plan and develop websites, mobile applications, games, and virtual environments that significantly contribute to public engagement with the humanities should consider the Digital Projects for the Public program. Those are both wonderful programs, but not what we’re doing.

Go to the NEH’s Digital Humanities Start-up Grants page for more information and for examples of successful applications.

Evaluation:  Your proposal will be evaluated according to how well and how clearly it achieves the above objectives.  Your project will constitute 30% of your total grade.