Humanities Commons Receives $971,000 Mellon Grant to Support Its Expansion

Humanities Commons, which is hosted and sustained by Michigan State University and led by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Digital Humanities for MSU’s College of Arts & Letters, was awarded a $971,000, 5-year grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a multi-year restructuring of its business model.

An online open-source platform, Humanities Commons facilitates communication and collaboration among scholars and practitioners across the humanities and around the world. It enables users to engage in discussions across humanities disciplines and to share articles, presentations, and other scholarly materials with their peers and the public. Members also create online professional profiles to help connect with others and to share their work more broadly. 

The Humanities Commons team now looks to attract a wider range of organizations and institutions as participating members of the network. To do this, the platform will be expanded to include a broader range of disciplines and its functionality will be expanded to appeal to a wider community.

Woman with short brown hair. She is wearing a red shirt and black sweater.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Digital Humanities

“We seek to partner with organizations and institutions that share our commitments to developing an open-knowledge commons, holding our collective work in trust for the world,” Fitzpatrick said. “In this project, we will fundamentally transform the Commons’ business model by preparing the platform for adoption by colleges and universities.”

As part of the expansion, the Humanities Commons team plans to open the network up beyond the humanities to also include social science and STEM scholars and their communities.

“This step toward multidisciplinarity will be accompanied by a program of new feature development that will make the platform of interest to the widest possible range of researchers while maintaining the discipline-specific communities that allow scholars to find and grow their own communities of practice,” Fitzpatrick said.

To help support this growth, the Humanities Commons team will expand its technical, community development, and business capacity.

We seek to partner with organizations and institutions that share our commitments to developing an open-knowledge commons, holding our collective work in trust for the world.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Digital Humanities

“We are at a critical juncture,” Fitzpatrick said. “Over the last four years, Humanities Commons has developed a highly diverse and thriving community of more than 28,000 users worldwide. We support all of them, but sustaining the network as it grows has become increasingly difficult. If we are to expand the platform in the ways required to make it financially sustainable, we must first expand our core team.”

As part of its restructuring, Humanities Commons will hire five new team members to facilitate the expansion in its base of participating organizations, with a focus on drawing new support from institutions of higher education.

“This growth will enable us to better support our member organizations and institutions as they participate in and contribute to a values-based, open-knowledge commons,” Fitzpatrick said.

Founded by the Modern Language Association (MLA), thanks to support from the NEH and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Humanities Commons is open to anyone who is interested. There are no individual fees. You just need to create an account.

Screenshot of a website homepage.
To ensure that Humanities Commons remains sustainable, the Humanities Commons team established some strategic plans for the network’s technical, financial, and governance future that can be found on the Sustaining the Commons website at

Up until its introduction, there had been nothing else like Humanities Commons in the humanities field.

“There had been networks for sharing preprints and working papers in science and social science fields for quite some time, but this wasn’t part of the way the humanities had worked,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s exciting to see scholars and practitioners in the humanities wanting to be more open and public with their work.”

The platform has now become an indispensable form of humanities infrastructure not only to 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.

In March 2020, Humanities Commons received a $500,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to further develop and support its scholarly infrastructure. The recent funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will be used as part of the fundraising match to release funds from the NEH.  

For more information, or to join Humanities Commons, visit the Humanities Commons website.