Humanities Without Walls Announces Grand Research Challenge Awardees

Funded Projects Center Equity-Based Change

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – January 26, 2022

Humanities Without Walls logo

The Humanities Without Walls Consortium (HWW) has announced five new projects funded by the third Grand Research Challenge. One of two major initiatives at HWW, the Grand Research Challenge provides grants for teams pursuing research with a commitment to methodologies of reciprocity and redistribution. Each of the five interdisciplinary research teams will receive an award of $150,000 over a two-year period, provided by a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Reciprocity and redistribution methodologies are at the center of HWW’s work to support humanities research that is not only publicly engaged but co-designed by community partners alongside faculty and graduate students. These methods aim to support collaborative scholarship inclusive of local and regional institutions and communities in recognition that expert knowledge making exists beyond as well as within the academy.

Applicants were prompted to build their proposals around the question of how collaborative humanities research can address the most compelling and urgent questions of our time—including global displacement, water and food justice and racial disparities—and how to design a humanities ecosystem that is truly “without walls.”

For the past seven years, the HWW consortium has been guided by these questions, creating new avenues for collaborative research, teaching, and the production of scholarship in the humanities. Headquartered at the Humanities Research Institute (HRI) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the HWW consortium links sixteen research universities in the Midwest and beyond. By leveraging the strengths of multiple campuses, the consortium has developed a range of interdisciplinary research teams through more than three dozen unique collaborative project awards.

Antoinette Burton, HWW Principal Investigator (PI) and HRI director said, “The Grand Research Challenge is an opportunity for humanities researchers to engage across institutions in genuinely equal and ethical partnerships, demonstrating that equity-based change can be built into projects from the ground up. We have a lot to celebrate in the humanities at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and at Humanities Without Walls.”


Established in 2014 with the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Humanities Without Walls (HWW) is a consortium of humanities centers at sixteen research universities throughout the Midwest and beyond—a large-scale experiment in collaboration as a dynamic scholarly practice. Through a variety of programs for faculty and graduate students, HWW aims to create new avenues for collaborative and interdisciplinary research, publicly engaged scholarship, and professional opportunities for graduate students.

The consortium includes Indiana University, Marquette University, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, University of Notre Dame, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Purdue University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois Chicago, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and University of Wisconsin at Madison.


Rose Brewer, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

“Environmental Justice Worldmaking: Redistribution and Reciprocity for a Just Transition”

“Environmental Justice Worldmaking” (EJW) centers ways that the humanities and humanistic social sciences can affect the just transformation of democracy. This project is a collaboration with Environmental Justice Health Alliance and Spelman College in Atlanta, and the Minnesota Environmental Justice Table and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. It aims to bring those communities most affected by climate crises in those cities into conversations about local solutions.


Aymar Jéan Christian, Northwestern University

“Black Trans in the Americas”

“Black Trans in the Americas” is a community-based and community-led research partnership that aims to document and celebrate the myriad of ways that Black Trans people create community, build programming, and lead movements with local and global communities in the Americas. This project is a collaboration between Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the community-based organization Open Television.


Robert Morrissey, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

“Reclaiming Stories: (Re)connecting Indigenous Painted Hides to Communities through Collaborative Conversations”

“Reclaiming Stories” reconnects tribal knowledge-makers to culturally significant objects/beings that have long been inaccessible owing to location and to institutional attitudes in the museum and academic worlds that historically often ignored Indigenous voices. This project is a collaboration between the University of Illinois, the Myaamia Center at Miami University, and The Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, with the consultation of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris.


Nadine Naber, University of Illinois Chicago

“Amplifying Mothers of Police Violence Survivors”

“Amplifying Mothers of Police Violence Survivors” seeks to overcome the problem whereby current prison reform and abolitionist frameworks do not value the trauma experienced by mothers of incarcerated individuals or realize the potential of mothers to create political change through advocacy and activism. This project is a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago and the Chicago-based organization “Mothers Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity” (MAMAS).


Vania Smith-Oka, Notre Dame University

“The Latinx Obstetric Violence Project: Art and Literature as Tools of Reciprocal and Redistributive Knowledge”

“The Latinx Obstetric Violence Project” addresses the overlooked reality of obstetric violence through art and literature workshops, which bring together women, scholars, and artists who have portrayed violence against women in childbirth. This project is a collaboration between the University of Notre Dame, and La Casa de Amistad, a non-profit educational organization working with the South Bend Latinx community.



Grand Research Challenge web page

Contact: Erin Ciciora, Senior Communications Manager