The Humanities Without Walls consortium links the humanities centers at 15 research universities throughout the Midwest and beyond.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded $3,000,000 to the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to fund the first two years of an extensive consortium of fifteen humanities institutes in the Midwest and beyond. By leveraging the strengths of multiple distinctive campuses, the initiative, titled “Humanities Without Walls,” aims to create new avenues for collaborative research, teaching, and the production of scholarship in the humanities, forging and sustaining areas of inquiry that cannot be created or maintained without cross-institutional cooperation.

The grant, led by IPRH Director and Principal Investigator Dianne Harris, will make possible two initiatives: One supports the development of summer workshops for pre-doctoral students in the humanities who intend to pursue careers outside the academy; A second initiative will fund cross-institutional teams of faculty and graduate students pursuing research that focuses on a grand challenge: “The Global Midwest.” The latter is intended to stimulate collaborative research that rethinks and reveals the Midwest as a key site—both now and in the past—in shaping global economies and cultures. The first pre-doctoral workshop will take place during the summer of 2015.

The consortium includes 13 of the institutions that belong to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC)—Indiana University, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Purdue University; and the Universities of Chicago, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin-Madison—plus the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The humanities centers at the 15 consortial institutions will serve as the hubs for collaboration. The Chicago Humanities Festival and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Illinois are also serving as key intellectual and infrastructural partners for the project.

The 21st century presents a clear and pressing need to collaboratively mobilize the collective resources of the heartland’s institutions of higher education. This consortium of humanities centers will together advance innovative and experimental research and pedagogical practices by sharing unevenly distributed resources across institutional walls, and by testing new ideas at scale. Humanities centers can best undertake this work because they are already sites of innovation on university campuses, generating ideas and stimulating new knowledge on campuses through the creation and funding of major initiatives.

The Humanities Without Walls consortium will be the first of its kind to experiment at this large scale with cross-institutional collaboration.

Consortium Objectives

  • Achieving Impact: Operating at the scale of 15 large institutions, the consortium can meaningfully examine the impact of experiments in pedagogy and in multi-institutional collaborative research in the humanities.
  • Distributing Risk: A consortium permits a degree of experimentation and innovation that no single institution might be willing to risk on its own.
  • Testing New Research Strategies: The ability to try newly developed research questions and methods that are not feasibly tested on a single campus, which may also lack particular resources required for collaboration.
  • Increasing Visibility of the Humanities: The scale of these endeavors creates opportunities for highly visible outcomes and products that will significantly highlight the vibrant cultures of humanities scholarship on each campus and throughout the consortium.
  • Advancing External Funding Opportunities: The ability to create new possibilities for externally funded research through collaborations that leverage multi-institutional resources.
  • Creating a Platform for Humanities Advocacy: Working together, the consortium center directors can create a single “voice” that can advocate for humanities-related issues, representing the interests of 15 major research institutions.
  • Piloting Alternative Academic Pre-Doctoral Humanities Career Training: As a large-scale collaborative, and working with the support of the Chicago Humanities Festival offices (one of the country’s largest and premiere public humanities operations), the consortium can create new models for graduate education that simultaneously work to advance the public profile of the humanities nationwide.


In July 2012, the officers of the Mellon Foundation awarded a $100,000 officer’s grant to IPRH to lead a planning effort among the fifteen institutional partners, derived from the thirteen interdisciplinary centers on CIC campuses (those of Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Pennsylvania State, Purdue University, University of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin) along with the centers at the Universities of Notre Dame and Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The logic of this partnership structure is based in the pre-existing association of the 13 CIC-member institutions and their relative geographic proximity, with the inclusion of Notre Dame and UIC to create greater institutional depth within the consortium’s terrain. Led by Dianne Harris, Director of the IPRH, the initial planning effort was designed by a committee that included the center directors from UIC, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. The committee’s work turned on the means of enhancing the development of intellectual contributions to existing museums, archives, and digital humanities resources through multi-campus collaboration, creating opportunities for scholars in recently down-sized humanities fields or departments to establish the critical intellectual mass necessary for the pursuit of research projects or the teaching of highly specialized courses, and developing opportunities for public engagement with the humanities.

After more than a year of work that included the collection of ideas from humanities faculty and graduate students and meetings with all of the center directors, the IPRH proposed a large-scale collaboration under the general rubric of “Humanities without Walls.” Together, the group formulated a set of innovative and experimental initiatives enabling them to advance education and research in the humanities. In addition, to test the types of collaboration that might be possible across our institutions, two pilot projects were conducted in the course of the year. One, “Performing the Middle Ages,” was led by Professor Charles Wright, and the other, on the “Uses of Scale in Literary Study,” was helmed by Professor Ted Underwood.


Principal Investigator:

Dianne Harris, Director, Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, Professor of Landscape Architecture, Architecture, Art History, and History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Project Manager:

Jason Mierek (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Overall Project Steering Committee:

Michael Berube (Penn State University)
James Chandler (University of Chicago)
Maura Ryan (University of Notre Dame)
Sidonie Smith (University of Michigan)
Jennifer Gunn (University of Minnesota)

Predoctoral Summer Workshop Steering Committee

Michael Berube (Penn State University)
Teresa Mangum (University of Iowa)
Paul Reitter (Ohio State University)
Wendy Wall (Northwestern University)
Kay Walter (University of Nebraska at Lincoln)

Global Midwest Steering Committee:

Jonathan Elmer (Indiana University)
Rick Livingston (Ohio State University)
Maura Ryan (Notre Dame University)
Sid Smith (University of Michigan)
Jennifer Gunn (University of Minnesota)
Sue Levine (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Sara Guyer (University of Wisconsin at Madison)
James Chandler (University of Chicago)