NEH Grant Supports Humanities Commons, a One-of-a-Kind Resource

Humanities Commons (HC), led by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Digital Humanities for MSU’s College of Arts & Letters, has received a $500,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to further develop and support its scholarly infrastructure, which has become an essential tool for the humanities field.

Founded by the Modern Language Association (MLA), thanks to support from the NEH and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Humanities Commons is an online network for people working in the humanities. Its website enables scholars to engage in discussions across humanities disciplines, allowing them to upload articles, presentations, and other scholarly materials to share and collaborate with their peers and the public. Scholars also may create online professional profiles to help connect with others.  

There is nothing else like this for the humanities.

“There have been networks for sharing pre-prints and working papers in science and social science fields for quite some time, but this hasn’t been a part of the way the humanities have worked up until very recently,” said Fitzpatrick, Project Director for Humanities Commons and the Principal Investigator on the grant. “It’s exciting to see scholars and practitioners in the humanities wanting to be more open and public with their work.”

The support of the NEH for Humanities Commons will help the network make real progress toward sustainability, both by establishing a fund that can support the network’s development over the next seven years and by helping us demonstrate the importance of the network to the humanities.

Dr. Kathleen Fitzpatrick

The NEH funding will be used to implement a sustainability plan for the Humanities Commons digital network by enhancing the technical and administrative capacity to host the network and ensure its continuity.

“The support of the NEH for Humanities Commons will help the network make real progress toward sustainability, both by establishing a fund that can support the network’s development over the next seven years and by helping us demonstrate the importance of the network to the humanities,” Fitzpatrick said.

The NEH challenge grant asks recipients to do significant fundraising, providing a 3:1 match on federal funds. The full amount of the combined grant and fundraising amounts will be used to complete a full migration of the platform’s hosting and fiscal sponsorship to Michigan State University, where development will be led by MESH, a co-venture of the College of Arts & Letters and MSU Libraries. MESH focuses on research and development in digital scholarly communication and is led by Fitzpatrick, who is the director of the MESH initiative. The Humanities Commons website migration is expected to be completed this year.

Woman with short brown hair smiling wearing glasses, a black blazer, a red shirt, standing in front of a brown brick building with green trees
Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Digital Humanities for MSU's College of Arts & Letters, Project Director for Humanities Commons, and Director of MESH


The NEH funding also will support two new full-time positions dedicated to Humanities Commons – a technical lead for the project and a community/business manager.

“Humanities Commons is an effective mechanism for the members of scholarly societies to engage with each other in ways that were not previously possible. Key to its success has been its open architecture and multi-society user base,” said Paula Krebs, Executive Director of the Modern Language Association. “The MLA is committed to the success of Humanities Commons, and we intend to support its growth and development into a self-sustainable platform over the next several years. We will remain a key member of the Humanities Commons community for many years to come, as it continues to add societies and organizations from all over the humanities community. The development work made possible by the NEH Capacity Building Challenge Grant will enable the entire HC team to take the project to the next level.”

Growth Within the Humanities Commons Network


Since it first launched in December 2016, the Humanities Commons user base has grown dramatically to now more than 19,000 scholars and practitioners worldwide. During the month of March 2019 alone, the network was visited by more than 41,300 users from 184 countries around the world.

At the same time, the Humanities Commons repository also continues to grow and currently contains more than 9,000 items in more than 25 different languages and which all are open to the public through a searchable database. Collectively, these items have been downloaded more than 900,000 times.

One reason the membership has grown so much is by current members encouraging their colleagues to join the network and to share their material there.

“This network is developed by and for scholars; it’s academy owned. It’s not-for-profit and it’s going to stay not-for-profit,” Fitzpatrick said. “There are a lot of networks out there that share work in similar ways but they do it for profit. They data-mine the work that scholars post. They pester their members to pay for services that should be openly available. Because we are operating with scholarly values at the core of our mission, our users can trust us to be there to support their work.”

Humanities Commons embodies the ideals of openness and community that shape the most innovative work in higher education. It is a platform for practices of generosity where scholars gather to enhance and support scholarship capable of transformational change.

Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters

Humanities Commons membership is open to anyone who is interested. There are no individual fees. You just need to create an account.

Humanities Commons has become an indispensable form of humanities infrastructure to not only scholars, practitioners, and the public, but also to humanities organizations, which may receive dedicated, customized online space for member interaction. Organizations can create, host, and archive a wide variety of open-access publications and open educational resources with minimal financial investment. At the same time, Humanities Commons members may access all participating organizations to which they belong through a single sign-on mechanism.

“Humanities Commons embodies the ideals of openness and community that shape the most innovative work in higher education. It is a platform for practices of generosity where scholars gather to enhance and support scholarship capable of transformational change,” said Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University and Advisory Board Member for Humanities Commons. “We are grateful for the support the NEH has provided to develop and advance Humanities Commons as a platform that enriches the ways scholarship is shaped, developed, shared, and preserved. We are committed to rising to the challenge of the NEH grant by engaging a wide diversity of scholars and community members to sustain and develop Humanities Commons.”

Long-Term Goal


The long-term goal of Humanities Commons is to connect all scholars and practitioners in every corner of the humanities through its trusted, open-source, open-access network to enable anyone access to the work that matters to them, to create new conversations and collaborations, and to get their work out to the world.

“What we are really hoping is that the network can help humanities scholars and practitioners transform the ways that they work,” Fitzpatrick said, “to think about their work in a more public fashion, to make their work more available and accessible to the public, and to make it more collaborative because of the ready availability of the kinds of conversations that they are able to have within the network.”

Founded in 1965, the National Endowment for the Humanities is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.