History and Art History Department Leads Nation in NEH Funding

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article on the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is a primary source of funding for research in the humanities.  The article included a list of universities that have received the most funding from NEH over the last decade. George Mason University is ranked eighth on that list, having received $5,801,343 in total funding  from NEH over the past decade.

This is an impressive accomplishment for the Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, which houses the humanities departments that have earned all that funding.  But nearly 90% of that funding—over $5 million—has been earned by the Department of History and Art History.   The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list is of the amount of funding that has gone to whole universities—that is, to the collective effort of all departments at those universities.  Mason’s Department of History and Art History would, by itself, rank 13th on this list, ahead of the entire institutional effort of Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, University of Texas, University of Southern California, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, and other top universities.  Though NEH doesn’t break down their statistics by department, our department would, by an enormous margin, rank higher than any single department in the nation. 

NEH has a variety of funding programs, but there are two categories in which the department has been particularly successful.  The first is the “Fellowships for University Teachers,” which provide a year of research leave to individual faculty members so that they can work full-time on their research projects.  The department has won ten of these in the past decade, more than any single humanities department in the country.  Recent recipients include Jennifer Ritterhouse, who won an NEH fellowship to support work on her recently published book, Discovering the South; Steve Barnes, for his research project on women and the family in the Soviet Gulag system; Suzanne Smith, for her project on the prominent African American preacher and entrepreneur, Solomon Lightfoot Michaux; and Matt Karush, for his book, Musicians in Transit: Argentina and the Globalization of Popular Music.

A second major category of funding competitions in which the department has had unparalleled success is that of digital history projects.  The department’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) has won over twenty grants from NEH.  During the past decade alone, the amount of those grants has totaled $3,555,764.  The projects funded by those grants include Papers of the War Department 1784-1800, which provides access, through a searchable interface, to over 50,000 long-lost documents relating to what was, at the time, the largest and most important organ of the federal government; “Doing Digital History,” a workshop at which experts at RRCHNM provided advanced digital history training to mid-career academics from universities around the country; Histories of the National Mall, an interactive website which provides visitors to National Mall with mobile access to historical materials and interpretation relating to the site; and Mapping Early American Elections, an in-progress site that provides interactive maps and visualizations of Congressional and state legislative elections from 1787 to 1825.

Brian Platt, the department chair, remarked, “NEH is the most important funder of humanities scholarship in the U.S., and to have earned more NEH awards than any other department in the country is a remarkable distinction.  I’m also proud of the fact that the department has been so successful in getting funding for both digital and “traditional” scholarship.  RRCHNM has been central to the department’s rise to national prominence, but the fact that we’ve won the most fellowships for traditional scholarly projects as well reveals the breadth and impact of the department’s scholarly achievements.”