History of Humanities Without Walls


  • The Mellon Foundation awarded the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH), a $100,000 officer’s grant. IPRH then-Director, Dianne Harris, led a planning effort among the consortia partners, including center directors from University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago.
  • The committee’s work focused on multi-campus collaboration, creating opportunities for scholars in humanities fields to establish the critical intellectual mass necessary for the pursuit of research projects or the teaching of specialized courses, and developing opportunities for public engagement with the humanities.


  • IPRH proposed a large-scale collaboration under the general rubric of “Humanities Without Walls" (HWW). Together, the committee formulated a set of innovative, experimental initiatives to advance education and research in the humanities.
  • Two pilot projects were conducted to test the types of possible collaborations across institutions, led by Illinois faculty Charles Wright and Professor Ted Underwood.


  • HWW was funded with a $3 million grant from the Mellon Foundation in support of two primary programs: the Grand Research Challenge in collaborative and interdisciplinary research, and the Summer Career Diversity Workshop for graduate students exploring non-academic careers.


  • Antoinette Burton became Director of IPRH and HWW Principal Investigator. Grand Research Challenge grants related to the theme of the "Global Midwest grants" are awarded to collaborative teams.

  • The first Career Diversity Summer Workshop was held in Chicago, with programming support from the Chicago Humanities Festival.


  • Mellon grants renewal to HWW for an additional $4.2 million in support of Grand Research Challenge projects related to the theme of "The Humanities in a Changing Climate." The Career Diversity Summer Workshop welcomed its first national (non-consortial) cohort of fellows.


  • HWW received a second renewal grant from the Mellon Foundation for an additional $5 million, including support for new programs and the addition of a sixteenth consortial institution, Marquette University.
  • With the second renewal came a commitment to applying methodologies of reciprocity and redistribution to HWW programs, including a workshop alumni advisory board, a summer internship program for graduate students, faculty/staff institutes, and the PhD Futures Now podcast.


  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, HWW hosted its first Career Diversity Summer Workshop virtually.
  • HWW Bridge program supported humanities graduate students at the University of Illinois in summer career exploration internships, working with local community organizations.


  • Grand Research Challenge awards of $150,000 granted to five projects which apply methods of reciprocity and redistribution to co-designed, community-engaged humanities research. 
  • The Career Diversity Summer Workshop is hosted by the University of Michigan.