Funding Opportunity: Hiett Prize in the Humanities (Deadline 5/12/10)

Sponsored by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture,

The Hiett Prize…is an annual award presented to a person whose work in the humanities shows extraordinary promise and has a significant public component related to contemporary culture. Its purpose is to encourage future leaders in the humanities by 1) recognizing their achievement and their potential and 2) assisting their work through a cash award of $50,000.

The application consists of a 4-page cv, a profile of previous work and a plan for future scholarship. A letter of nomination from a senior scholar is also required.

Book: “How Professors Think”

The book “How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment” by Harvard sociologist Michèle Lamont offers a peek inside panel review sessions of grant-making agencies in the humanities and social sciences, including:

One of the stated goals of the book is to “open the black box of peer review and make the process of evaluation more transparent, especially for younger academics looking in from the outside”  (p. 12).  However, the book is not written as a “how-to” manual.  It is an ethnography of the world of these closed evaluative sessions, drawing on sociological theories of knowledge and of group dynamics.  The conclusions are based on observations of panel discussions as well as interviews with many of the panelists.

Alex Golub, of the anthropology blog Savage Minds, thinks that chapter 5 should be required reading for new scholars, particularly those looking for funding for their dissertation research.  This chapter details how panelists arrive at definitions of quality or “excellence” and the extent to which these criteria vary by discipline.

There is nothing terribly new here.  For example, Lamont finds that panelists favor proposals that are clearly written and polished, and that use theory and methods appropriately.  These insights don’t add much to the conventional wisdom about proposal evaluation.

One area that I did find somewhat novel was Lamont’s discussion of panelists’ propensity to divine the “morality” of the proposer when reading submitted text.  “Panelists” she writes, “privilege determination and hard work, humility, authenticity, and audacity”(p. 195).  Of course, applicants have only limited control over how well their proposal and letters of support communicate their worthiness according to this criterion.

The section I found most useful is the discussion in chapter 6 of how reviewers view interdisciplinarity.  One of the panelists tells Lamont “There is a… way of doing things in which you use your knowledge of… the things outside your discipline, more as a rhetorical strategy than as something in which you really steep yourself” (p. 208).  Interdisciplinary proposals are risky.  Authors must demonstrate competencies in multiple areas while not seeming too ambitious.  The potential to impact multiple disciplines is nearly as important as the ability to use them.

Chapter 1 of the book is titled “Opening the Black Box of Peer Review”.  However, the book opens the black box only to reveal a multitude of differing attitudes and approaches that might be overwhelming to inexperienced proposal writers.  Lamont devises useful typologies to classify and analyze divergent approaches to significance, originality, diversity and other key ideas.  Faculty hoping to use the book to guide their preparation of proposals will need to dedicate considerable time and thought to figuring out how to apply this analysis to their own work.

Related Links

Lamont summarizes the book on Huffington Post (April 30, 2009)
Review from InsideHigherEd
(March 4, 2009)
NSF Interview with Michèle Lamont

Opportunity for student publishing in the humanities

The Valley Humanities Review is currently seeking essays in the humanities for publication in its Spring 2010 Issue. We seek essays of high quality, intellectual rigor and originality that challenge or contribute substantially to ongoing conversations in the humanities. Topics may include but are not limited to: literature, history, religion, philosophy, art, art history and foreign languages. VHR is committed to undergraduate research and scholarship in the field; therefore, we only accept submissions by current or recently graduated undergraduate students. Our reading period runs from September 1 to December 1 of each year. All submissions received outside of these dates will be returned unread. All submissions should adhere to the Chicago style in formatting, footnoting and bibliography. Essays should be between 3,000 and 6,000 words in length, be free of errors and have an original title. Submissions may be sent to submissions-vhr@lvc.edu