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New Start-Up Grants Guidelines Now Available

August 22, 2008 | By Jason Rhody

The guidelines for the Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants are now available. The deadline for this grant program is October 8, 2008. As always, NEH program officers are ready and willing to answer your questions and read your drafts. You can submit questions and drafts to the email address odh[at]neh[dot]gov and someone will contact you as soon as possible. If you would like a phone call in return, please provide a phone number and the best times to call in your email.


There were not many significant modifications to the guidelines from the previous round, but I do want to note what changes we did make to help those revising previous submissions or those who were beginning their drafts based on the previous guidelines. Changes include:


Order of required elements & streamlining of application

We have streamlined the guidelines requirements somewhat in an effort to reduce the duplication of information in various sections. The order of elements has changed, so those revising old applications should pay careful attention to the new order (e.g., the Table of Contents is now first, followed by List of Participants, Abstract, Narrative, Budget, etc.).



Previously, applicants wrote a one-page overview of the project (formerly Statement of significance and impact), which we have now shortened to a 1000-character abstract (note: 1000 character, not 1000 word—characters include spaces, punctuation marks, letters, and numbers). The advantage here is that you can also use this abstract in one of the required forms (the Project Information field on Application for Federal Domestic Assistance - Short Organizational [SF-424 Short] form). Since most previous Statements simply repeated material also discussed in the first pages of the narrative, this change should streamline and clarify the application. 


New narrative section: "Environmental scan"

This is a new section that is intended to help applicants better clarify the niche they are carving out for themselves within their field. Rather than repeat (and potentially confuse) the section, I encourage you to go read it for yourself. The "environmental scan" helps explain your view of the field you hope to influence, and it also shows awareness of the work already being done and how you plan to contribute to it, enhance (or move beyond) existing efforts, and avoid duplication.


Page Length

Applicants for Level 1 Start-Up Grants now have three single space pages for their narrative section, which is slightly more than the previous five double-space pages. Applicants for Level 2 Start-Up Grants now have six single-space pages (similar in length to the previous twelve double-space pages).


Section 8: Attachments

This section can be used to include screenshots, charts, project schematics, and other such materials. Note that you are limited to 10 pages in this section. If you include something here, it is not a bad idea to make a brief mention in the appropriate spot in the project narrative section, so that reviewers know to reference the attachments. So if you are describing your work plan and want reviewers to see the three experimental screenshots of how you expect your project to look that are attached, be sure to say so (e.g., "Reference the three screenshots in Section 8: Attachments.").



I should note that many of these changes are intended to help applicants focus on the key element of this grant category: innovation. The guidelines are asking you, as the applicant, to think more carefully and explain more directly how you consider your project innovative within the current efforts in your field. Generally, we have an expansive view of "innovation," as explained in our Frequently Asked Questions:


What do you mean by innovation?

Innovation is creating something new; it is being creative; it is a novel or interesting new approach to tackling a problem. Innovation can take many forms. Some funded Start-Up Grant projects are examples of technical innovation, such as the creation of a new piece of software to address a need in the humanities. In other cases, the innovation was not in creating a new piece of technology, but rather using existing technology in a new way. For example, an applicant took existing software used for some other purpose and demonstrated how it could be effectively used for humanities research. In other cases, the innovation was not in the technology, per se, but in the collaborative nature of the project, as with projects that brought together creative people from both technical and non-technical fields to address a longstanding humanities issue in a new way. True innovation is rare and it is often the case that any two people may disagree about what constitutes innovation. The applicant therefore needs to make a strong case for why the proposed project is innovative.


Surprised that we have a FAQ section for this grant category? There are other resources available to you as well; all are in the sidebar located on the right-hand side of the grant guidelines. In that sidebar you will find a link to the FAQ, PDF copies of sample narratives from successful applications, budget instructions, and help for working with


We look forward to this next round of applications. If you need help, all you have to do is ask by sending email to odh[at]neh[dot]gov. Good luck!