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Interview with Jennifer Serventi about the NEH's New IATDH Program

December 20, 2007 | By Brett Bobley

Brett: OK, so the NEH has this brand-new grant program called Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities (IATDH). Tell me more about this program.

Jennifer: This program seeks to increase the number of humanities scholars using digital technology in their research and broadly disseminate that newly acquired knowledge about advanced technology applications relevant to the humanities. We have four goals for this program: 1. to bring together humanities scholars and digital technology specialists from different disciplines to share ideas and methods that advance humanities research, education, preservation, access, or public programming through the use of digital technologies; 2. to allow these participants to reflect on, interpret, and analyze new digital media, multimedia, and text-based computing technologies and integrate these into humanities research; 3. to prepare current and future generations of humanities scholars to design, develop, and use cyber-based tools and environments; and 4. to devise new and creative uses for technology that offer valuable models that can be applied specifically to the humanities.

Brett: The other day, I was talking to a digital humanities center that has a great deal of experience using GIS and other technologies for humanities projects. Could they use the IATDH program to fund an institute to teach other scholars how to use GIS for the humanities?

Jennifer: Absolutely. This program is a wonderful opportunity for the staff and faculty associated with digital humanities centers to share their expertise with humanities scholars throughout the United States.

Brett: Does it have to be an institute in the summer? Does it have to be in only one location? Or are you flexible about that?

Jennifer: We are flexible. We realize that not all topics will lend themselves to a multi-week effort during summer, although others will. And we imagine that some institutes, perhaps ones that are just two or three days, could be offered at different sites around the country.

Brett: Does the institute have to surround a particular humanities topic? (e.g. "the plays of Shakespeare"). Or can the theme be a particular type of technology and how it can be applied to a humanities project?

Jennifer: Indeed, this new program is designed to fund institutes that focus on technology and technology practices. Of course, we are the National Endowment for the Humanities, so it is critical that you explain how this technology will be directly applicable to humanities research, education, preservation, or public programming. One of our major goals is to leverage your expertise. If your institution is particularly experienced in a technology and its use for the humanities, this grant program offers the opportunity for project directors and participants to explore how this expertise can be shared and applied to other humanities projects across the country.

Applicants who are interested in hosting an institute that focuses on specific humanities themes (rather than on technology) might consider a different NEH program, called Summer Seminars and Institutes in the NEH's Division of Education Programs. The deadline for that program is March 3, 2008 and the staff of the division would be happy to speak with interested applicants about ideas for summer seminars or institutes.

Brett: Here's another common question: "On my campus, we have computer scientists, engineers, and others working with humanities scholars on various projects. Can the instructors and audience for our institute be from numerous disciplines?"

Jennifer: Yes, definitely. We see Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities as a chance for scholars from across the disciplines to come together to consider issues in humanities computing and inspire new thinking about questions in the digital humanities. As we note in the guidelines, "This program is designed to bring together humanities scholars, advanced graduate students, computer scientists, and others to learn new tools and technologies and to foster relationships for future collaborations in the humanities. Partners and collaborators may be drawn from the private and public sectors and include appropriate specialists from within and outside the United States. "

Brett: What is the dollar limit for these grants and who is eligible to apply?

Jennifer: We anticipate that the awards will range from $50,000 to a maximum of $250,000 and US nonprofit organizations, including colleges, universities, and independent research institutions, are eligible to apply.

Brett: Anything else that folks should know about this program?

Jennifer: Just that we are looking forward to seeing what is proposed for this new program. Staff are available to discuss ideas for potential institute topics and we can read draft applications before the deadline. We recommend that those draft proposals be submitted six weeks before the deadline. Please feel free to contact the staff of the NEH Digital Humanities Initiative (DHI) via email at dhi@neh.gov. Again, the guidelines are available now.

Thank you Jennifer!