Bachelor Hall, on the Oxford, Ohio campus of Miami University.

Humanities Center-sponsored presentation focused on applying for NEA and NEH funding

National Endowment for the Arts logo

This past August, Miami University’s Humanities Center sponsored a presentation by Jon Parrish Peede, publisher of the Virginia Quarterly Review, on applying for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Peede is a former director of literature grants, and two other programs for the NEA. Below, we share some of the highlights from his talk.

Peede began with an overview of the two agencies and what distinguishes them. The NEA, he said, is focused on the creation and distribution of art itself, while the NEH tends to focus more on the scholarship and preservation of arts and humanities.

Peede offered several grantsmanship tips of general benefit to those applying for most programs, not just the NEA and NEH. These include:

  • Reviewing eligibility criteria carefully and applying only if the applicant meets them.
  • Reviewing project guidelines carefully and complying with them in the application.
  • Contacting a program officer to discuss project ideas and agency fit before submitting an application.
  • Understanding key terms used by the agency and stressing them in the application.
  • Avoiding unnecessary jargon in the project narrative.
  • Being specific and realistic in the project narrative.
  • Making sure the narrative and budget are tightly articulated, so that every activity mentioned in the narrative corresponds to a line in the budget and every line in the budget corresponds to a specific activity mentioned in the narrative.
  • Requesting only what you need in the budget, resisting any urge to “pad” it.
  • Requesting panel review comments from any previous submissions to an agency and reviewing them before applying again.

In addition, Peede offered tips specific to NEA and NEH applications:

  • Propose projects that go narrow but deep or shallow but wide (and especially avoid narrow and shallow). Peede said the NEA prefers to fund projects that are either nationally distinctive or locally valuable.
  • Important terms to stress in the narrative include innovation, community engagement, underserved populations, social media outreach, inter-generational activities, lasting impact, evaluation metrics, multi-genre, multi-media, transmedia, transformative. Peede also said it’s important to use these terms properly. For example, the NEA does not consider mailing out postcards or putting an event on a campus calendar to be “community engagement.”
  • It is important to demonstrate — not just voice — a commitment to community and diversity/inclusion.
  • Make sure the most compelling project activities align with the grant period.
  • Since agency funding is unlikely to cover all actual expenses, ask for support for the most engaging project components. For example, Peede says, include artist fees in your budget, but not photocopying expenses.
  • If support is being requested for an event, remember to include marketing for that event in the budget.
  • Work samples submitted with an application should be consumable within 30-90 seconds.
  • If applying for a literature fellowship, send your best work, regardless of genre/style. Peede said well-roundedness in genre/style is not privileged in review of these applications.
  • Projects supported by translation fellowships must be literary.
  • It’s important to recognize that the NEA experiences ideological cycles. That may mean specific work is a better fit during certain time periods or under certain administrators.
  • Because the default is to assume that scholars of certain works should be fluent in the languages those works were originally written in, translation projects must demonstrate a need for an English language version.
  • Having a book contract in hand at the time of application demonstrates the applicant’s capacity to execute the grant, but the specific press holding the contract is not important, unless it is highly regarded in the subject area.
  • Fellowship narratives should follow this outline:
    • The Research and Contribution section should describe the intellectual significance of the project, including the value to scholars, general audiences, or both.
    • The Methods and Work Plan section should describe methods and clarify the part or stage of the project being supported by the fellowship.
    • The Competencies, Skills, and Access section should explain the applicant’s competence in the area the project focuses on.
    • The Final Product and Dissemination section should describe the intended audience and the intended results.

Finally, of particular interest to Miami faculty, Peede said there is good alignment between liberal arts institutions like Miami and the NEA and NEH. Peede described these agencies as “egalitarian,” and noted that while Miami’s institutional environment might be perceived as a disadvantage in applications to other Federal agencies — like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF) — that’s not the case with the NEA and NEH.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Photo of Bachelor Hall by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.

Lindsay Regele stands by a marker commemorating the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The marker reads: "Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Among the oldest of its kind in the nation, the special collections library holds many of the nation's important founding documents. Founded by prominent citizens in 1824 and located here since 1884, it traces America's history from the 17th century to the present."

Historian draws connections between America’s earliest days and the modern day

Library accession mark. Text: No. 939. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Communiter bona profundere dorum est. Printed by Zacharia Poulson, jun, No. 106, Chestnut-Street, May, 1801.
Accession mark inside the front cover of a book held by the Library Company of Philadelphia, where Dr. Lindsay Schakenbach Regele completed a fellowship in the spring of 2016.

As a historian of early American political economy, Lindsay Schakenbach Regele was into Alexander Hamilton before Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash Hamilton: An American Musical made America’s first Secretary of the Treasury cool. And just like Miranda, Regele, an assistant professor in Miami University’s Department of History, sees parallels between the challenges America faced in its earliest days and those it faces in the modern day.

“We’ve always debated how much role the government does and should have in commerce,” Regele says. “How much should we promote our own manufacturing? How much should we rely upon manufacturing from other places? What is our role in the world in an economic sense? Are we producers? Are we purchasers? Are we both?”

In establishing an American government, Hamilton, along with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the other early leaders, had to answer all of these questions to enact the first Federal policies. That’s the subject of a book Schakenbach Regele is currently working on. Specifically, the book – tentatively titled, Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry, 1776-1848 – examines the development of America’s arms and textile industries through the lens of the geopolitical concerns of the period.

“Once the United States made the bold step to declare itself independent of Britain, it suddenly ran smack into the Old World problems of how to create a state, and how to supply that state, and how to enable that state to wage war against others,” Schakenbach Regele says.

As part of the research for her book, Schakenbach Regele completed a fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP) during the spring semester of the 2015-2016 academic year. Established by Benjamin Franklin in 1731 and located in America’s first capital, LCP holds an extensive collection of rare books, manuscripts, and other material important to scholars like Schakenbach Regele. It is also geographically close to other holdings of important documents from the period, including those at the University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, DE, all of which Schakenbach Regele visited during her tenure at LCP.

Far from being settled, many of the issues the founders grappled with have popped up again and again throughout American history. By way of example, Schakenbach Regele points to two of today’s hot-button issues: national security and immigration.

“We don’t think about ‘national security’ in 1780, but that was a very real thing,” she says. “Even once the war was won against Britain, the government was obsessed by conflicts with Native Americans and domestic insurrections, never mind potential threats from European nations.”

Schakenbach Regele says the concern was so great that even Thomas Jefferson, who was a vigorous proponent of an agrarian economy and opposed state-directed manufacture of the type advocated by Alexander Hamilton, allowed an exception for government policies encouraging the production of firearms.

When it came to immigration, early Federal policy was influenced by a desire to catch up to the Europeans. Schakenbach Regele describes America immediately post-Revolution as a “technological backwater” in desperate need of skilled artisans and people who were familiar with certain manufacturing techniques. She says some of the founders saw a solution in policies that encouraged immigration.

Whatever other consequences there were, early commerce policies successfully raised the profile of American manufacturing, thereby achieving a major goal held by Hamilton, among others. Schakenbach Regele offers the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London as evidence.

“It was this big showcase of manufacturers from different countries,” she says, “and all of a sudden, the United States is starting to be admired for the pistols it has on display and is winning prizes for its fancy, machine-produced cloth.”

These days, Americans are more concerned with threats from religious extremists than from European nations and the debates about immigration policy tend to be more focused on limiting immigration, rather than encouraging it. Still, Schakenbach Regele says there are lessons to be learned from history.

“I’m not saying that the past necessarily repeats itself. But there is context and nuance in the past that can help us make decisions moving forward.”

By “distilling information from all these different sources and trying to make a coherent, cohesive narrative out of little fragments and competing opinions,” Schakenbach Regele says, historians help illuminate the path forward. That’s something almost everyone agrees our society needs.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director and Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Photo of Lindsay Schakenbach Regele courtesy of Lindsay Schakenbach Regele. Photo of LCP accession mark by POP (Provenance Online Project) via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.