Apply to Develop a Graduate Humanities Lab Course in Summer 2023

Due Date for Letter of Inquiry: March 7, 2023 (5:00 pm).
Due Date for Final Application: April 19, 2023 (5:00 pm)

The Mellon Humanities for the Public Good Initiative invites applications from UI faculty and partners to design a Humanities Lab. We define a “Lab” as an applied, experiential approach to teaching and learning at the graduate level that offers graduate students meaningful ways to connect advanced studies in the humanities with both a social challenge and skills valued in multiple career settings. The Lab grant will be awarded to one or more faculty members from humanities or humanities-adjacent departments and their collaborators who wish to host a Humanities Lab graduate course in 2023-2024 or 2024-2025. Funding is available to support planning teams and to support departments.

We see endless opportunities for exciting Humanities Labs grounded in this region. A Lab at the University of Iowa (located as we are in a largely rural Midwestern space) might offer courses and projects on interdisciplinary topics like rural healthcare, Black art and artists, immigration and refugees in Iowa City, foodways and cultural histories of agriculture, rivers and waterways, place-based storytelling, or compassion in the midst of political fracture, to suggest only a few possibilities. We look forward to hearing how you imagine Labs could build on existing strengths on campus as well as on the exciting work being done by community organizations around Iowa City. Humanities for the Public Good interns have been working with a range of community organizations including the African American Museum of Iowa, Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development, and arts organizations including Public Space One, the Englert Theatre, and FilmScene, who are already familiar with our program.


  • Up to $15,000 of summer funding for Humanities Lab planning groups
  • Up to $10,000 for participating departments

What Is Humanities for the Public Good?

Humanities for the Public Good is an integrative, collaborative, practice-based humanities initiative in development at the University of Iowa. We are working toward a certificate program and master’s degree, designed to co-ordinate with existing PhD programs in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Recognizing that the “public good” is open to interpretation, we use that phrase to signal our support for efforts to connect the intellectual and aesthetic resources of the humanities with needs identified by communities—whether those communities are a group of students struggling to succeed on campus, a local nonprofit organization, or far-flung networks or eco-systems. To that end, these are the goals of HPG:

  • To offer students opportunities to connect the subject matter, methods, and mindsets distinctive to the humanities with the wide range of skills, understanding, and strategies needed to succeed in varied careers and workplaces.
  • To collaborate with students to find meaningful ways to center equity, inclusion, and social justice in their work, whatever careers they pursue.
  • To coordinate with and support faculty and departments as well as other initiatives at University of Iowa in efforts to strengthen humanities graduate education.

The program is funded through a five-year (2019-2023) grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and hosted by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies in collaboration with the UI Graduate College and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

What is a Humanities Lab?

Like their counterparts in the sciences, Humanities Labs foreground inquiry, exploration, and collaboration. For HPG, we are defining a Humanities Lab as a graduate course that

  • Awards three-hours of credit and is taught as part of a department’s regular graduate offerings.
  • Is motivated by a hypothesis or problem that requires attention to issues of equity and inclusion.
  • Preferably, includes a community partner who works with faculty Lab instructor(s) to identify a wicked problem rich with possibilities for study and problem-solving using the subject matter, tools, methods, and dispositions of the humanities (like climate change, censorship, hunger).
  • Is grounded in collaborative, project-based, experiential pedagogy.
  • Offers students opportunities to share their research and discoveries through public-facing communications such as op eds, grant applications, performances, exhibits, policy papers, tool-kits, videos, and other forms that might benefit the community partner as well as the student (rather than exclusively through a traditional seminar paper). We hope the assignments might also suggest a pathway to students interested in experimenting with a creative capstone or thesis projects that showcase their cumulative research and sensemaking.
  • Is designed for graduate students, but might also have roles for advanced undergraduate students.

Who Can Lead a Humanities Lab?

The Lab instructor should be a faculty member who regularly teaches graduate students. However, the Lab team could include librarians, archivists, curators, other staff with expertise in the area, and community partners. The design team might also include graduate students who can offer their perspectives on how best to serve their fellow students. Because Humanities Labs will focus on complex problems, we see great benefit in interdisciplinary team-taught courses. The Lab might involve two or more faculty who are able to negotiate with their departments to co-teach (or to teach two departmental courses at the same time and place). Or several faculty members and partners might want to develop a Lab in which different faculty members teach the Lab, slanted toward their own disciplinary interests, in different semesters over several years. If two faculty members would like to apply together and both departments are willing to commit to offering versions of the Lab in the next several years, whether separately or as a co-taught course, applicants are welcome to identify both departments as partners.

Campus Resources

We take collaborations with community partners very seriously and want to be sure faculty members have training in best practices before approaching partners. Applicants who are interested in building a community-engaged Lab but not sure where to begin are welcome to consult with Teresa Mangum, P.I. on the HPG grant, and with Nick Benson in the Office of Community Engagement. Nick Benson’s office has regular training sessions and would be happy to work with teams to identify partners and build good relationships. The Center for Teaching is an excellent resource for course design, including community-based, problem-focused courses. The Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio also has deep experience in collaborative approaches to the humanities. We have also been inspired by the Building University of Iowa Leadership for Diversity (BUILD) courses and welcome Labs that wish to connect humanities methods with the approaches and goals of UI’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.


To honor the commitment of departments engaged in these innovative pedagogical practices, we will award $10,000 to a department that agrees to host a Humanities Lab and up to $15,000 to the Lab team (to be shared among the team members) who work together in the summer to design a Lab that can be offered within the next two years.

HPG Support

We are also happy to work with experts from the Center for Teaching and the Office of Engagement and others to support teams as they plan Labs and to offer feedback and advice as courses develop. As a cluster of Humanities Labs emerges, we’ll be well-positioned to work across Labs to help with syllabus and assignment design, to share strategies for working thoughtfully with partners, keeping the humanities central to the course, for getting students’ work out in public, etc.

Criteria for an HPG Humanities Lab

Goals for the Humanities Labs

  • Students in the course have the opportunity to engage in collaborative, public-facing projects that provide the opportunity to learn skills for myriad careers as well as subject matter.
  • The course is designed to experiment with ways the humanities can contribute to the public good and foster a socially just approach to equity and inclusion in work practices and workplaces.
  • The course focuses on a problem that the methods, mindsets, and subject matter of the humanities can help to address.
  • The course may be team-taught and would likely be developed in partnership with a campus or community organization(s).

Administrative Requirements

  • The course offers three hours of credit from a humanities or related department.
  • The course is taught as part of the regular rotation in a faculty member’s graduate teaching—whether the proposal is to design a new course or to redesign an existing course as a Humanities Lab.

To Apply


Spring 2023 Application Process:

The application is a two-step process.

  1. The faculty member(s) who will act as the lead instructor for the course should consult with promising collaborators and submit a Letter of Inquiry on behalf of the group by March 7, 2023, at 5:00 p.m. Applications should be emailed to as a single PDF.
  2. Up to two Lab groups will be accepted and asked to develop a more detailed work plan with support from participants in the Humanities for the Public Good Initiative.

We anticipate making up to two awards for summer 2023. Recognizing the complexity of course schedules, we ask that the courses be taught as soon as possible after that summer. For people redesigning an existing course, that could be as early as the fall of 2023 (or 2024). For those designing new courses, we understand that you’ll need a longer timeline.

Due Date for Part I — Letter of Inquiry: March 7, 2023 (5:00 p.m.)
Due Date for Part II — Full Application: April 19, 2023 (5:00 p.m.)

Step 1
Please submit a two-page letter, a two-page CV for the faculty member(s) leading the course design team, and a brief statement of support from the Chair of the department. These should be combined into a single file and emailed to

This initial application should include three items:

  1. A two-page letter of inquiry containing:
    • The names and contact information of the person(s) who will act as the group’s contact.
    • A brief explanation of the complex problem the Lab will focus on and why this team of faculty, staff, and public partners is well positioned to explore the ways the humanities can be part of addressing that problem.
    • Reflections on how humanities knowledge, methods, and values will be central to the Lab’s goals and practices.
    • Special challenges and opportunities the problem offers for consciously building inclusive and equitable practices into the design of the Lab and approaches to the problem.
    • A list of partners crucial to the Lab (faculty, staff, departments, units, colleges, and organizations on and off campus with whom you hope to work).
    • Where this course would fit into the department’s (or departments’) offerings, who will act as the Lab leader(s), and how this Lab would serve UI graduate students as well as the public good.
  2. CV(s) from the lead instructor(s)—no more than two pages.
  3. A brief letter of support from the department chair(s) of the active department(s), indicating a willingness to allow the Lab leader(s) to teach the course in the department’s regular rotation (attached to letter and CV).

Step 2
Firmed-up plans and budget will be developed with help from members of previous HPG Humanities Lab Working Groups and the Obermann staff.

A group representing the Humanities for the Public Good Initiative will review the letters of inquiry, tentatively accept up to two proposals, and contact those groups to discuss the plans in greater detail. We will then ask for the following documents and will be happy to help groups develop them.

  • A finalized list of collaborators who will design the class together over the summer with a plan for working equitably and with mutual benefit to all on the team, especially public partners.
  • A work plan for the summer.
  • A budget for up to $15,000 to support the team (the budget will clarify how the team will use the funds).
  • Brief emails from each partner’s supervisor agreeing that we are allowed to pay that team member over the summer.

The funding to the team will be awarded once the summer work is completed. When (and only when) the team produces a draft overview and syllabus for the Humanities ab and the department that acts as the home for the course finalizes plans for offering the Humanities Lab, the $10,000 will be awarded to the supporting department. (If two departments would like to collaborate, we’ll work with the departments on an equitable arrangement.)

Questions: Contact Teresa Mangum at


HPG hosted a recent conversation with leaders of humanities labs from the University of Arizona, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Michigan. Watching this 90-minute video would be an excellent way to learn about the Humanities Labs.

Examples of Humanities Labs Across the Country

  • Duke University Bass Connections, where research teams collaborate on problem-based projects and courses, such as Latinx Social Movements and Histories of Energy.
  • Arizona State University Humanities Labs, where Lab courses are team-taught and centered on “grand social challenges,” including Aging in American Culture, Deconstructing Race, and the intersections of Food, Health, and Climate,
  • University of Michigan Humanities Collaboratory, a program that supports interdisciplinary, community-engaged humanities courses and teams of faculty, students, and partners, like the Precarity Lab and the Immigrant Justice Lab
  • University of California Berkeley’s Future Histories Lab, where faculty, students, and community members work together in community-engaged, project-based courses about topics like place-based storytelling, public history, and creative mutual aid. 
  • Cornell’s Rural Humanities, an initiative that uses the tools of the humanities to critically approach, learn from, make visible, and support the realities of rural America by funding projects like Youth Voices/Voces de Joventud and Investigating Rural History.
  • Wayne State’s Humanities Clinic, which pairs humanities graduate student interns with Detroit businesses and nonprofits to address issues like food insecurity and eldercare.
  • University of Illinois Chicago’s The Freshwater Lab, which engages students, community members, grassroots leaders, academic researchers and elected officials to tackle pressing Great Lakes issues, encouraging creative engagement through courses, events, fellowships, and digital story collections.
  • University of Minnesota’s River Life, which concluded in 2020 after more than eleven years and which continues to foster ongoing river and water work, the Open Rivers journal, and community-engaged work around Indigenous water history and practices.
  • Philadelphia’s Monument Lab, an independent art and research studio that emerged from a series of courses at University of Pennsylvania. The Monument Lab works with artists, students, educators, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions on participatory approaches to public engagement and collective memory.