Planning your DH Institute: Who and How

January 13, 2020

This is the second of two posts (post 1) that will help you conceptualize and describe your Institute for Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities.

In this blog post, we’ll focus on how to ensure that you are well-situated to accomplish the goals of your Institute for Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities (IATDH) and how to demonstrate that to the peer reviewers who will read and evaluate your application.

We’ll be focusing on the sections relating to people (ParticipantsInstitutional Profile, and Staff, Faculty, and Consultants) as well as the Budget Justification. We’ll also be focusing on the following evaluation criteria:

  • The regional or national reach of the program, as demonstrated by the likely impact upon the participants, and the likely broader impact of the institute curriculum and other program-related products.
  • The appropriateness of the host institution and the professional training and experience of the staff in relation to the activity for which support is requested; for projects that propose an online training component, the experience of the staff in providing online training as well as the appropriateness of the online training platform.
  • The appropriateness of the project’s budget, in view of the project’s design and likely results.

You can find a full explanation of the review criteria in the Notice of Funding Opportunity.


For some Institutes, identifying and recruiting participants is a challenge that requires careful planning; for others, the challenge will be selecting from a large and enthusiastic pool. Your task with the IATDH proposal is convincing reviewers that you have a strategy for recruiting a “robust and inclusive” pool of applicants and clear criteria for selecting from among them.

In the "participants" section, applicants generally describe the kinds of attendees they’re looking for, the platforms they’ll use for recruitment, and the criteria they’ll use to select participants.

These strategies and criteria may vary significantly. The proposal for the highly selective Digital Cultural Mapping institute, for example, asked faculty and graduate students to submit a research agenda showing their commitment to geospatial humanities; they used a number of different scholarly platforms to recruit a highly interdisciplinary cohort of scholars.

In contrast, the Expanding Communities of Practice proposal prioritized recruiting a professionally diverse group of early career applicants, including “faculty, librarians, staff, curators, museum educators, archivists, postdocs, and graduate students”; selection criteria included availability and open-mindedness.

What matters is that the participant community is well-defined and appropriate to the program. When reviewing participant descriptions, reviewers look for evidence that there will be sufficient interest to justify the program.

Reviewers also look for a focus on diversity, whether that means participants in different stages in their career, with different disciplinary backgrounds, from different kinds of academic institutions, or with diverse professional backgrounds. You can demonstrate this commitment by recruiting diverse faculty, promoting the institute across a diverse set of platforms and existing scholarly and professional networks, and taking accessibility into account in your budget.

Recently, some programs have started setting aside a number of participant slots for early career faculty, contingent faculty, graduate students, or faculty and staff at minority-serving institutions and community colleges, depending on the goals of the institute.

Institutional Profile

The purpose of the institutional profile section is to justify the location of your institute: to answer the question “Why should this institute be held here?”

This section is particularly important for residential institutes, where the location will significantly impact the participant experience. Reviewers will want to see that you have considered the material needs of your institute, like technology and accessibility, and that you have confirmed that the host site has capacity to meet these needs.

This is also the space to talk about housing for your residential institute. Reviewers will want evidence that you have confirmed the accessibility and cost of housing options near your site, and that your budget reflects a realistic assessment of per diem costs.

Staff, Faculty, and Consultants

In selecting people to teach and direct your institute, you’ll want to make sure that you can demonstrate expertise in all subject areas of the institute, including technical skills, humanities research, and project management. This is a strength of many funded proposals, with reviewers frequently remarking on the high qualifications of the instructors.

One concern that occasionally arises has to do with the expertise of the institute directors. Reviewers are generally skeptical of programs where the directors are not experts in the skills they are teaching (but are rather depending on invited teachers to fill the gap). While you certainly don’t need to be an expert in everything, reviewers generally do expect the directors to have a core competency that aligns with the subject of the institute. Reviewers will also take note if none of the project directors have strong backgrounds in the humanities.

That said, reviewers often look for diversity among the project team and institute instructors, and especially appreciate the presence of librarians, faculty members, technical experts, and other kinds of outside experts such as lawyers, as appropriate. In the case where an institute focuses on a specific cultural group (such as Indigenous history), reviewers will look for evidence that members of the community are key participants in program design and implementation, and are credited and compensated accordingly.

Finally, don’t forget to include the résumés and letters of commitment from institutes faculty and staff in Attachment 6: Résumés and Attachment 7: Letters of commitment in the application package.

Budget Justification

The "budget justification" is a new requirement for IATDH proposals. This section asks applicants to help clarify their budgets and to help reviewers determine whether the budget is appropriate to the institute's goals.

While a carefully constrained budget is always appreciated, reviewers look askance if there aren’t sufficient funds to accomplish a project’s stated goals. A particular concern is whether instructors and participants are compensated appropriately. Instructors generally receive an honorarium, and while the amounts vary by project, reviewers will notice inconsistencies within an institute.

Funds are often allocated for participant travel, and sometimes also for a participant stipend. These funds can be distributed as reimbursements or as a set amount. Recently, reviewers have been attentive to the ways that these decisions may limit the accessibility of a program. While reimbursements put an extra burden on participants, set amounts may make it difficult for participants from distant or rural communities to attend. You can use the budget justification to explain how you made this decision.

More broadly, reviewers are particularly concerned about the ways that participant stipends may limit the applicant pool for a program. In one case, for example, a reviewer expressed concern that out-of-pocket costs could potentially prevent graduate students or faculty from smaller institutions from attending.

One thing reviewers tend to appreciate is the relatively new trend of allocating funds for post-institute support or mentorship, which can help demonstrate a commitment to the long-term impact of the program.

In all of these cases, clear explanations of how you came to determine your budget will help alleviate the concerns of reviewers, who are responsible for determining whether a budget is “appropriate” for an Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities.

Learn More

IATDH institutes are professional development opportunities for organizers and attendees alike.

A list of current institutes, including information about how to apply, is available on our website.