ENGL 7370 Introduction to Digital Humanities

DH Project Proposal

Detail of Charles Babbage's difference engine


  • Students will work individually or in small collaborations
  • Groups will conceive and propose a DH project
  • The class will work together to develop expectations and evaluation guidelines for this assignment

Assignment Acknowledgments

This assignment was developed from exemplars developed by Matthew Gold, Quinn Dombrowski, Alan Liu, and Jim McGrath, among many others who responded to this question.

The Nitty-Gritty

During this class we have overviewed (some of) the DH field and surveyed a range of tools and methods for analyzing data. We have not yet cultivated the kinds of expertise in a method that would allow you to create a project in full, nor will the few weeks available to us allow robust development. Instead of building a project, then, for your final exercise you will write a research proposal for the DH project you would pursue, given world enough and time (and expertise and funding). If this happens to be a project you actually expect to develop, perhaps toward your DH certificate, all the better.

Possible Topics

Your project can be on any topic within DH (broadly understood).1 Sample projects might include:

  • Research that brings new approaches or documents best practices in the study or the teaching of the digital humanities;
  • Planning and developing prototypes of new digital tools for preserving, analyzing, and making accessible digital resources, including libraries’ and museums’ digital assets;
  • Scholarship or studies that examine the philosophical or practical implications and impact of the use of emerging technologies in specific fields or disciplines of the humanities, or in interdisciplinary collaborations involving several fields or disciplines;
  • Innovative uses of technology for public programming and education utilizing both traditional and new media; or
  • New digital modes of publication that facilitate the dissemination of humanities scholarship in advanced academic as well as informal or formal educational settings at all academic levels.

Proposal Models

One model for these project proposals is the grant proposal, such as those submitted to the NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grants program (see the sample narratives), though I am open to other models of similar scope and complexity in another context, such as a proposal developed for a non-profit organization. If you’d like to develop toward a different model, let me know and we can work out the precise elements of your proposal.

Proposal Format

Unless we discuss an alternative structure, your proposal should be 15-20 pages long and include the following elements, drawn from the NEH’s actual grant guidelines:

  1. Table of Contents
  2. Abstract: a clear, concise, one-page summary of your project and its contributions written for a non-specialist audience. Your abstract should convey the problem(s) your project solves and why it is innovative.
  3. List of Participants: This list can be theoretical and include participants by role (e.g. data scientist; book historian, Omeka developer) rather than name.
  4. Narrative: which includes the following subsections:
    1. An explanation of the project’s activities and deliverables, noting their innovative qualities and their value to scholars, students, and general audiences in the humanities.
    2. An environmental scan that overviews related work, as in a literature review, noting how this project will address gaps or make corrections, but also how this project might adapt, expand, or otherwise build on prior work. The environmental scan should make it clear that the applicant is aware of similar work being done and should explain how the applicant’s proposed project contributes to and advances the field.
    3. A detailed work plan, including how data will be collected, how datasets and metadata will be structured, and methods and tools for using the data. The order and sequence of the proposed plan are more important than outlining specific dates.
    4. A brief description of the necessary project staff, including the project director and collaborators who would need to work on the project. As in #3, these can be described by role.
    5. A description of the final product and how it will be shared/distributed
  5. Data management plan: this describing how data will be managed, stored, and documented during development work and how it will be sustained beyond the proposal’s timeline.
  6. Budget: The proposal should include a full budget and budget justification, both of which take institutional overhead into account. If you don’t know what “institutional overhead” is, don’t worry—we’ll discuss it.

An actual grant proposal would be a bit longer and include a few additional elements, such as letters of support, but these are not feasible for an in-class assignment. We will discuss this structure in class and I will recommend resources, such as sample proposals, you can consult as you plan and draft.

The primary goal of this assignment is to help you think not just about what DH tools are available, or what questions you might ask about/using them, but to prompt you to ground those ideas in practical implementation. What would you need to know to pursue the project you have in mind? What resources would you need? What kinds of collaboration or support would be required to realize your project’s goals? Where might you find those needed resources, tools, or collaborators?

In our final class together, you will briefly present your proposals in a lightning-talk format.

  1. This list of bullet points and other aspects of the proposal requirements have been taken from the NEH Office of Digital Humanities grant guidelines: https://www.neh.gov/grants/odh/digital-humanities-advancement-grants