The Evolution of a Book, Part 4: Funding Your Research

(The first three posts in this series are available at the following links: Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.)

One of the most important parts of completing a book is finding research funding. For historians, there are a number of sources of funding.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t very successful in obtaining research funding for the Jackson biography. Part of my problem was the inability (due to teaching responsibilities) and unwillingness (for family reasons) to travel for extensive periods of time. So, fellowship and grant opportunities that required residency beyond one week were immediately out of the question. As far as I can tell, my other problem was that I am just not a strong grant writer. Finding the right balance of narrative, justification, and need seemed to escape me. I twice applied for NEH summer fellowships without success. My application for a Gilder Lehrman fellowship met with a similar result.

I was successful in two instances, however. In 2007, I spent a week at the Library of Congress courtesy of the White House Historical Association. As I recounted on this blog, last summer, I visited the Filson Historical Society for a week as well. Both trips were invaluable to completing my research.

In addition to this outside funding, I also received university-level funding via summer research grants. Both Southern New Hampshire University and Cumberland University offered these opportunities, and I was fortunate to receive funding for several summers. Without this funding, which supported trips to the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and The Hermitage, I never would have finished this project.

Since my funding success rate has been so spotty, I am loathe to give much advice. I do think I learned several important lessons, though, which I’ll share with you.

1. Be careful in selecting fellowships and grants. Applying for every opportunity just because it is available will be a waste of time. Along that same line, don’t apply if you aren’t at the point in your research that the funding will be helpful.

2. Take advantage of institutional funding. the summer research funding I received never exceeded $4,000, but that money made the difference between having time and money to make research trips, organize research, and write instead of teaching one or two summer classes.

3. Solicit advice from people who have had success in finding funding. I asked for help from colleagues whose advice I trusted. I also recommend reading Karen Kelsky’s blog for helpful tips. Her posts on the foolproof grant template, while not useful for my purposes, might be helpful for other historians.

Part 5 is here.


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