Mellon Is An Even Bigger Player in the Humanities Than You Think

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) this week received $3 million from the Mellon Foundation in support of "Humanities Without Walls," a 15-school research consortium. The consistent pressure conservatives are putting on Congress to cut support to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) highlights the importance of private gifts in the area like this one.

Architectural historian Dianne Harris, IPRH Director, Principal Investigator, will administer the grant. It will fund two distinct projects:

  • a series of summer workshops for students at the beginning of a doctoral-level education who plan to pursue non-academic careers after graduation.
  • a program called "The Global Midwest,” which supports scholarship on the Midwest's roll in "shaping global economies and cultures."

According to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's press release, the Humanities Without Walls consortium consists of departments at

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.

It's difficult to illustrate what a vital service Mellon provides without some context. Foundation Center data indicates that this foundation has awarded all of the 12 largest grants in the humanities over the past decade except one from the Ford Foundation.

Though Mellon does fund other things besides the humanities, the discipline generally occupies center focus at the foundation. They paid out a total of around $258 million in grants during 2012. Compare that to the $146 million appropriated to the NEH that same year.

Not only does Mellon put more money into the humanities than the national government; it seems like their nose for sniffing out bright people is keener than Uncle Sam’s. According to Web of Science’s Arts & Humanities Citation Index, Mellon-funded scholars have in recent years published about twice as much academic material than those who receive NEH support. They've also been cited about 5 times more often than scholars who receive NEH money.