President Trump has called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities, but the agency continues to support scholarship and education around the country. Today, the NEH announced $39 million in grants for 245 humanities projects. More than $1 million of that total is earmarked for 28 “public scholars” to help them write nonfiction books — not for other academics, but for a general audience.
The Public Scholar program, now in its third year, aims to make academic writing and research more accessible and popular to a broad readership. As in previous years, the grant winners are an eclectic group of famous and not-so-famous writers studying a range of fascinating subjects, from wiretapping to the Aztecs.
For instance, this year’s winners include best-selling professors James Shapiro, who is working on a new book about William Shakespeare’s place in American culture, and Stephen Prothero, who is writing a book about how Eugene Exman influenced American religion.
Heather Clark won a public scholars grant to write a definitive critical biography of Sylvia Plath, which Knopf expects to publish in 2019. Janice Nimura is working on a biography of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first women in America to receive a medical degree (1849), and her sister Emily, who also earned a medical degree. “Sister Doctors” will be published by W.W. Norton.
Independent scholar and comedy writer Ben Schwartz received a grant to complete a work of narrative history about American humor between the two world wars. His book, to be called “The Lost Laugh,” relies on research and interviews with Bob Hope, Mel Brooks and other professionals of the era.
The NEH’s Public Scholars program offers stipends of $4,200 per month for six to 12 months. Financial need is not a criterion for the grants, which are awarded by a panel of peer reviewers. Independent scholars and academics may apply so long as they have previously published a book or articles that reached a wide readership.
Below is the full list of 2017 grant winners:
Richard Bell, University of Maryland at College Park ($50,400): “Kidnapping and the Slave Trade in Post-Revolutionary America”
A book on four boys kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1825 and their story’s impact on debates about slavery and abolition.
M. Todd Bennett, East Carolina University ($50,400): “Howard Hughes, the CIA, and the Untold Story Behind Their Hunt for a Sunken Soviet Submarine”
A book exploring intelligence oversight and accountability through a narrative account of the covert 1974 CIA operation to use Hughes’s ship Glomar Explorer to raise a sunken Soviet submarine.
Kevin Birmingham, Harvard University ($50,400): “The Sinner and the Saint: Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired ‘Crime and Punishment’ ”
Research and writing of a book-length history of Dostoevsky’s classic “Crime and Punishment.”
Mark Braude, Stanford University ($50,400): “The Invisible Emperor: Napoleon Bonaparte on Elba”
Research leading to publication of a monograph on Bonaparte’s exile on Elba and short-lived return to power in 1815.
Ruth Chang, Rutgers University ($50,400): “Making Hard Choices: The Power of Commitment in a World of Reasons”
Research leading to publication of a monograph on the philosophical nature of hard choices.
Heather Clark, CUNY Research Foundation ($50,400): “The Light of the Mind”
A biography of American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) that emphasizes her literary development and her important place in American letters.
Kimberly Hamlin, Miami University ($50,400): “Woman Citizen: Helen Hamilton Gardener and Women’s Suffrage in America”
A biography of Gardener (1853-1925), suffragist, lead negotiator to Congress and President Woodrow Wilson on behalf of the movement for suffrage, and the first woman to occupy a high-ranking federal civil service position in the United States in the 1920s.
Sara Hendren, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering ($37,800): “A Scissor, a Shoe, the Sidewalk’s Slant: Disability and the Unlikely Origins of Everyday Things”
Research and writing leading to publication of a book on the concept of disability, based on the stories behind everyday objects designed to accommodate disabled people.
Brian Hochman, Georgetown University ($50,400): “A History of Wiretapping in the United States”
Research and writing of a book on the history of public- and private-sector wiretapping and wiretapping technology since the 19th century.
Jennifer Homans, New York University ($50,400): “A Biography of Choreographer George Balanchine”
Preparation of a book-length biography of Balanchine (1904-1983), from his earliest years in Imperial Russia to his death in New York.
Sheryl Kaskowitz ($50,400): “Sidney Robertson and the Documentation of American Folk Music in the New Deal Era”
Preparation of a book about Robertson (1903-1995), a folk-music collector in the 1930s for the Resettlement Administration of the U.S. government.
John Lynn, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ($50,400): “The Other Side of Victory: A History of Surrender From Medieval Combat to Modern Terrorism”
The writing of a book-length narrative on the history and concept of military surrender, examining how wars end.
Rachel Mesch, Yeshiva University ($29,400): “Three Women Writers Who Lived as Men: Jane Dieulafoy, Marc de Montifaud, and Rachilde”
Research and writing of a biographical study of three late-19th-century French female writers who lived their lives as men: housewife-turned-archaeologist Jane Dieulafoy (1851-1916), art critic Marc de Montifaud (1849-1913) and novelist Rachilde (1860-1953).
Tiya Miles, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ($42,000): “The Story of ‘Ashley’s Sack’: A Family Heirloom in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture”
Research and writing of a book about African American women’s experience, as revealed through an embroidered cotton bag passed down through generations of enslaved and free women.
Daniel Neep, Georgetown University ($50,400): “The Nation Belongs to All: The Making of Modern Syria”
The writing of a book-length history of Syria from the 19th century to the present.
Megan Kate Nelson ($50,400): “How the West Was Won — and Lost — During the American Civil War”
A book on the Civil War in the American Southwest, including its impact on settlers, Native Americans and the environment.
Luke Nichter, Texas A&M University ($50,400): “A Biography of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.”
Research and writing leading to publication of a biography of Lodge (1902-1985), a politician, ambassador and presidential adviser.
Janice Nimura ($50,400): “How the Blackwell Sisters Brought Women to Medicine — and Medicine to Women — in 19th-Century America”
Research and writing leading to publication of a dual biography of Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) and her sister Emily Blackwell (1826-1910), pioneering women in American medicine.
Wanda Corn Outright, Stanford University ($50,400): “From Local Folk to National Icon: The Three Lives of Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’ ”
A book on the 1930 painting and how it became an iconic image.
Stephen Prothero, Boston University ($50,400): “The Work of Eugene Exman: How an Editor and His Authors Made America More Spiritual and Less Religious”
Writing of a biography of Exman (1900-1975), a book editor influential in the field of American religion.
Ben Schwartz ($50,400): “The Lost Laugh”
Research and writing of a book on the development of American humor between the two World Wars.
James Shapiro, Columbia University ($50,400): “America’s Shakespeare”
Research and writing for a book on how Shakespeare’s works have figured in America’s national conversation from the Revolution to the present day.
Jacob Soll, University of Southern California ($50,400): “A History of the Free Market From the 16th to the 20th Century”
Research leading to publication of a monograph on the history of the idea of the free market.
Camilla Townsend, Rutgers University ($50,400): “A New History of the Aztecs”
The writing of a book-length narrative on Aztec history .
Abram Van Engen, Washington University ($25,200): “The Meaning of America: How the United States Became the City on a Hill”
Completion of a book project on the history and influence of John Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill” sermon from 1630 to the present.
Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ($25,200): “Pogrom: The Origins of the European Genocide of the Jews, 1917-1921”
Research leading to publication of a monograph on the origins of the Holocaust.
Sarah Wagner, George Washington University ($50,400): “Bringing Them Home: Identifying and Remembering Vietnam War MIAs”
Researching and writing a book on forensic identification and public memorialization of U.S. service members missing in action from the Vietnam War.
Ellen Wayland-Smith, University of Southern California ($37,800): “Jean Wade Rindlaub and the History of Advertising to American Women”
Research and writing of a book-length history of American advertising to women, told through the work of Rindlaub, a prominent adwoman during World War II and the Cold War.
Ron Charles is the editor of Book World.