Will your thesis or dissertation research lead you into the pages of historical manuscripts or rare books found only in a few libraries in the world? Will you need to examine collections of photographs, paintings, or fine prints? Will historical or archaeological artifacts held by world museums or research centers be a primary source of evidence by which you will craft an argument about your topic? If so, archival grants and fellowships may be the primary emphasis of your quest for external research funding.
Who offers archival awards?
This type of award is most often provided by an individual library, repository, museum, or archive for the use of their own collections. However, professional societies and nonprofit organizations also run competitions for grants or fellowships that can be used for archival work on projects relevant to their research priorities. For example, the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC) administers grants to scholars whose research makes use of archival materials found in at least three NERFC member institutions.
What do archival awards pay for?
Most archival awards provide travel and/or a living allowance for the duration of the project. Depending on the award, this duration may be limited to only a few days or weeks, or may extend for a full year. In some cases, the award may consist of free housing or meals on-campus at the funding institution. The cost of archival work may also extend beyond basic travel expenses to include photocopy or photography costs, and you can include such expenses in your grant application budget if the funder allows.
How should I tailor my application?
To effectively apply for archival funding, you must first get a clear sense of the scope and depth of the institution’s relevant holdings by using online catalogs or by contacting the archivists or curators responsible for the collections. Then, as you write your research proposal, be as specific as possible about what resources you will access, how you will evaluate or analyze each type of source material, and how they will help you answer your research question or advance your primary argument. While you will want to focus on the work you will do under that specific grant, many archive-based dissertations require travel to several different archives under different awards, and you will also want to include enough information about your other research plans for the reviewer to understand the scope and value of the overall dissertation for your field.
As with other dissertation research grants or fellowships that provide limited-term funding, the timeline for your research is an important piece of the application. Be realistic about how much you will be able to accomplish within the allotted timeframe, and be as specific as possible about how you will use your time to accomplish your research goals. Since the reviewers have likely done archival work of their own, and may be familiar with the specific collections you plan to use, they will quickly be able to spot a research schedule that is overly ambitious and will not be able to fully accomplish the goals set forth in the proposal!
How do I find archival awards to support my research?
In many cases, the best way to identify archival grants and fellowships is to first identify the institutions that hold the source material you will need to access. Search those institutions’ websites or contact them by phone or email to determine whether they offer funds for visiting researchers. Next, identify professional organizations and nonprofit groups that might be interested in your research topic, time period, or location, and contact them or search for small grants they offer. Finally, consider large-scale award programs that might support work at multiple archives or institutions where no other support is available, such as the Fulbright programs or the Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship. As always, Rutgers graduate students can search the Pivot funder database or schedule a Pre-Application Meeting with a GradFund Fellowship Advisor for help!