Planning your DH Institute: Who and How

January 12, 2021
Flamingoes, study folder for the book Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom by Abbott Handerson Thayer.
Photo caption

Flamingoes, study folder for the book Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom by Abbott Handerson Thayer.

This is the second of three posts (post  1 | post  3) that will help you conceptualize and describe your Institute for Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities. Note: This was originally published in 2020. It has been updated for the 2021 application cycle.

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 (Participants, Institutional Profile, and Staff, Faculty, and Consultants). 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.

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. For example, the Further 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.  In contrast, the highly-technical Advancing XML-Based Scholarship from Representation to Discovery institute sought participants who had “some prior experience with XML-based markup languages” and “favor[ed] applications where two or more candidates have applied from the same institution” because “In [their] experience, learning to program works best as a social activity.”

For 2021, we have asked you to be more explicit in the narrative about the particular recruiting strategies that you will be using to identify your applicant pool. We (and the reviewers) want to know how you planning to use social media, such as Twitter or listservs, to get the word out.  For example, if you write in your application that community college faculty and staff are a particular group that you want to target for recruiting, you will then want to demonstrate that you know the organizations and networks that serve these groups and describe how you will work with them to publicize your institute with their members.

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.

Reviewers often look for professional 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.

For 2021, if you have undergraduate and graduate students on your project team, we’re also asking you to describe how the project will provide opportunities for these students to participate in the intellectual activities of the institute. 

Finally, don’t forget to include the résumés and letters of commitment from institutes faculty and staff in Attachment 4: Résumés and Attachment 5: Letters of commitment in the application package.