Grants 101: Working With Humanities Experts

Grant Program Director Mark Livengood shares some tips for grant writers periodically here as part of Humanities Booyah. Mark consults in person and over the phone with people all the time, listening to ideas and talking through potential public humanities projects. He is approachable and insightful. He also notes that some questions come up again and again. This week he gives us some of his talking points on the subject of Humanities Experts. 

We have clearly stated  criteria for judging grant proposals listed in our Grant Guidelines. One is that projects should be firmly grounded in the humanities: “Strong public humanities programs engage humanities experts and community members so that both local knowledge and academic expertise are respected.”

So what, exactly, do we mean by ‘humanities expert?’

Ojibwe artist Wayne Valliere works with students

Ojibwe artist Wayne Valliere works with students as part of a 2013 WHC Major Grant-funded project called “These Canoes Carry Culture: Birchbark Canoe Building for At-Risk Youth.”

When describing the grant proposal they’re working on, people sometimes ask me “What does the WHC mean by humanities expert?”  I usually mention the definition included in our grant guidelines.  In the spirit of the WHC’s Working Lives Project, I’ve reformatted that definition into a brief position description for a WHC humanities expert:

Primary Responsibilities

  • Provide guidance in developing and delivering the proposed project’s humanities.
  • Help to engage people in thoughtful conversation about the proposed project’s key humanities themes.

Education and Experience

  • An advanced degree in a humanities discipline OR qualifications necessary to bring a humanities perspective to the proposed project.
  • Breadth and depth of knowledge relevant to the proposed project.
  • Experience working with general audiences a plus.

Personal Characteristics

  • Demonstrated capacity for encouraging expression of, and reflection upon, multiple points of view.


  • Commensurate with education, experience, and the proposed project.
  • In-kind match is encouraged.
  • See Grant Application Instructions for suggested payment scale and special considerations about compensation.

Supporting Documents

Some examples from recent awards suggest the range of humanities experts:  a curator of education; a curator of history; a professor of history; a professor of philosophy; and a former commercial fisherman/local historian.  In previous projects a tribal historic preservation officer, a judge, and a traditional arts specialist have served as humanities experts. 

Sometimes the humanities expert lives in the community in which the project happens, but not always.  Often projects involve more than one humanities expert.  Always the WHC wants to know that the project involves the qualified person or people who will bring a humanities perspective. 

Questions?  Please call me at (608) 265-5595 or email me at


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Have you considered doing an oral history project but wondered what it entails? Here is a useful intro to the topic.We announce recent grant awards here, on Humanities Booyah. An archive of past grant projects can be found here.Our next grant deadlines are August 1st and 15th. Here are additional tips for writing successful applications.

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