The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), established in 1965, is the largest federal funder of the humanities in the United States. Although most programs are focused on U.S.-based projects, there is ample room to explore work that is international in scope. As the NEH legislation states, the funding is to effect the access to and understanding of humanities topics available to “people of all backgrounds and wherever located” (20 USC 951). In fiscal year 2021, the agency’s award budget is approximately $137 million.
As of January 20, 2021, all of the policy positions at the agency were replaced with personnel from the new administration. As of March, there is an acting Chairperson (legally the head of the agency is the “Chairman”), and it is unknown when an official appointee will be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. As with all federal agencies during the transition, this means that there are considerable questions regarding the direction and priorities of the agency under new leadership, and it seems like this situation will continue for the foreseeable future.
The most recent comprehensive report from the agency is its 2017 Annual Report.
- NEH’s FY 2021 budget is $167.5 million, with $137 million of that going toward competitive grants. More than 90% of the budget goes toward grants, and less than 5% of the award budget goes toward individual research fellowships.
- Unlike NSF and NEA, which are structured according to disciplinary foci, NEH is divided up by function. Thus, there is no specific “history” or “literature” department, instead the agency’s units (“office” or “division”) represent research functions or programs:
- Each office or division has different leadership, program staff, budget, and programs, so it is important to read funding notices carefully since requirements, eligibility, award amounts, and review criteria vary.
- I provided more detail on the structure and funding distribution within NEH in my 2020 webinar, “Strategies for Federal Humanities and Arts Funding.”
- NEH publishes this explainer about its review process.
- Most programs include sample application narratives and FAQs along with the notice of funding opportunity documents; all current programs are listed here, and each funding opportunity provides specific information on a dedicated page.
- You can search for previously funded projects here.
Major NEH funding programs
The agency has many funding programs across its various units, and there are also special initiatives that can be developed and funded by the Office of the NEH Chairman. University researchers are most often interested in these programs:
- NEH Fellowships. These awards, administered by the NEH Division of Research, go to individuals and may be up to $60,000; applications usually due in April, to start following calendar year; over the last five years, the agency awards on average about $5 million in this program; 3 page narrative, not available to enrolled students. Learn more
- NEH Summer Stipends. These awards, also administered by the NEH Division of Research, go to individuals and may be up to $6,000; usually due in Sep, to start following calendar year. The modest amount can be used to defray costs of research activities during the summers, such as visiting an archive or supporting the completion of a writing project. Learn more
The NEH’s budget declined for about five years following the “fiscal cliff” and recisions of 2013, then stayed more-or-less steady in subsequent continuing resolutions. In 2020, a large infusion of one-time funds through the CARES Act increased the agency’s budget. It is likely that additional, likely one-time programs, will come along this year through additional pandemic relief funds.
Update (late March 2021): the agency announced two programs with funds appropriated through the American Rescue Package (ARP):
- The Humanities Organizations program can award up to $500,000 to cultural organizations and educational institutions, to support programs that are in danger to fiscal instability caused by the pandemic.
- The Humanities Grantmaking program supports regranting projects to distribute funds via smaller grants and is open to organizations that can administer competitive granting programs.