Daryl Baldwin stands at a podium.

Myaamia Center receives NSF grant for “Breath of Life” project

The Tututni language team works at the Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives during the 2015 National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages workshop
The Tututni language team works at the Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives during the 2015 National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages workshop

The Myaamia Center at Miami University has been awarded a $182,406 grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the “National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages” project.

The funding is part of the Documenting Endangered Languages program, a joint effort between the NSF and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which is designed to support projects that protect and preserve endangered languages.

This is the second time the Myaamia Center has received NSF funding for the project. Breath of Life is designed to train researchers from indigenous communities in the methods of archives-based linguistic and ethnographic research. This research is critical to the advancement of knowledge about indigenous languages and cultures and to their revitalization.

Daryl Baldwin, director of the Myaamia Center, is principal investigator. Co-principal investigators are Leanne Hinton, professor emerita of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and Gabriela Pérez Báez, curator of linguistics and director of the Recovering Voices initiative, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

The Native American Languages Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1990, enacted into policy the recognition of the unique status and importance of Native American languages. All Native American languages are endangered, and more than 120 of them have gone silent, which means there are no remaining fluent first language speakers. Experts recognize approximately 7,000 languages worldwide and estimate at least half will fall silent by the end of this century, according to the researchers.

National Breath of Life (BoL), as the program is more widely known, was awarded a $167,650 grant in 2014. The increased funding for this year’s award is largely due to a new assessment component that will be directed by Miami University’s Discovery Center for Evaluation, Research, and Professional Learning.

”The results of the assessment will inform the evolution of the institute to ensure that the National Breath of Life continues to offer state-of-the-art training in linguistics and archival research for community researchers,” Pérez Báez said.

Co-hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives, the National Museum of the American Indian and the Library of Congress, the 2017 National BoL workshop will run from May 29 to June 9 and introduce linguistics and the language sciences. Participants are grouped by their heritage language, with each group assigned an academically trained linguist for one-on-one mentoring in the analysis of archival materials in that language. Ultimately, these efforts by citizen scientists will increase their linguistic understanding of their languages to support reclamation and further investigation of the languages.

The National BoL will train citizen scientists from some 15 language communities, bringing the cumulative number of languages investigated in these national workshops to more than 70.

The Breath of Life archival model has been successful in engaging Native American citizen scientists to work with archival language documentation in repositories in California, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C.

“Thanks to the support of the NSF-DEL program and our partnerships with the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices and the National Breath of Life Committee, we are able to offer this unique opportunity for selected participants to research new archival resources and receive specialized training that supports their community’s language research needs,” Baldwin said.

Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on Miami University’s News and Events website.

Photo of Daryl Baldwin by Ricardo Trevino, Miami University Photo Services. Tututni language team photo courtesy of Myaamia Center archives.

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.

A man standing in profile and wearing a dark suit and red necktie is in the right of the frame. He's talking to a man who is facing the camera and wearing a steel grey suit. Both men are smiling. In the background are various other reception attendees.

Humanities Center awarded $500,000 NEH Challenge Grant

Logo of the National Endowment for the Humanities

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded the Miami University Humanities Center a $500,000 Challenge Grant.

Miami is one of only five institutions of higher education, and 16 organizations nationwide, to receive a challenge grant this year.

The award will ensure the center’s long-term viability and support innovative cross-disciplinary collaborations among humanities scholars and students at Miami.

It commits the university to raising $1.5 million over the next five years as part of a new $2 million endowment for the Humanities Center.

“This is the most prestigious award offered by the nation’s premiere humanities institution,” said Timothy Melley, director of the Humanities Center and professor of English. “We could not have a better endorsement of our existing programs and our vision for the future.”

In addition to sustaining the center’s existing programs, the NEH award will fund three new programs: a Humanities Teaching Lab, a Faculty Research Collective and a Research Apprenticeship Program in which students will work closely with faculty on high-level research projects. “Unlike many centers, we see the development of students as a critical part of our mission,” Melley said.

The center was inaugurated in 2009 with a generous gift from Miami alumnus John W. Altman (Miami ’60). Altman, who has supported the humanities at Miami for more than 20 years, said “Professor Melley’s leadership team continues to create outstanding interdisciplinary opportunities in the humanities for our students, faculty and all Miami stakeholders as evidenced by this large vote of confidence from the NEH. As ongoing supporters of the humanities at Miami, we could not be prouder of our ‘return on investment.’”

The center currently offers numerous programs for cross-disciplinary collaboration, undergraduate research and public inquiry. An external review of the center recently called its largest initiative, the Altman Fellows Program, “one of the best imagined, designed and run initiatives at any university in the world.”

Phyllis Callahan, dean of the College of Arts and Science, said, “our Humanities Center embodies Miami’s deep commitment to liberal arts education.”

“Our approach has been, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Melley said. “With limited resources in the center’s early years, we have demonstrated the value of interdisciplinary humanities approaches to the urgent questions facing us today. We are thrilled to have the NEH support our work.”

Written by Susan Meikle, University News Writer/Editor, University Communications & Marketing, Miami University.  Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on Miami University’s News and Events website.  Re-used here with permission.

Photo of Miami University President David Hodge and Humanities Center Director Tim Melley by Jeff Sabo, Photo Services, Miami University.