Call for Proposals

National Humanities Conference | Detroit, MI

November 11-14, 2021


As we begin 2021, we are very much looking forward to this year’s National Humanities Conference, which will be held November 11-14, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. Of course, we are paying close attention to the CDC and WHO recommendations regarding COVID-19 and will adjust as necessary to ensure the health and well-being of attendees. In addition to the in-person event, we are currently planning a small number of virtual sessions in conjunction with the conference and opportunities to connect from afar. As you review the Call for Proposals, please note that there will be an opportunity to designate on the submission form that you are only interested in presenting virtually. 


The 2021 National Humanities Conference, to be held in Detroit, offers an occasion for thinking about borders and how the humanities can help us understand how they are constructed, the challenges they pose, and ultimately explore ways they can be crossed. 

In 1701, French explorers encountered the Three Fires People: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi. They also encountered their neighbors the Seneca, Delaware, Shawnee and Wyandot nations. The French claimed it, renamed it “Detroit,” and constructed Fort Detroit, which was a physical border and a military installation. In the 19th century, indigenous peoples negotiated new borders with the U.S. government,  but European immigrants trespassed these boundaries as they repopulated the peninsula. Conversely, American slaves escaping bondage sought refuge in the “Free State,” while many crossed the Detroit River, the border between the United States and Canada, and the gateway to freedom.  

Detroit, the most populous city in Michigan, is known universally as “The Motor City” and the birthplace of Motown Records. The complex 20th century history of Detroit, and the interactions and conflicts between its citizens, can also be understood through borders constructed to separate and to contain them. As in much of the US, racial discrimination in hiring and promotion practices and restrictive covenants in real estate contracts not only shut out African Americans in Detroit from leadership positions in business and government but also from building wealth. Social and demographic borders were enforced and policed, which resulted in racial tension and violent conflicts. At the same time, a labor movement created a burgeoning middle class, elevating living conditions and providing unprecedented access to higher education for all Detroiters. 

Today, Detroit’s population is predominantly African American (nearly 80%) with a significant Latinx community (8%), and there is a current emigration of white populations moving to the city that has increased the white population to about 10%. A diverse metropolitan population in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties of more than 4,000,000 also houses an estimated Middle Eastern population of 300,000, one of the largest in the country.  

This national conference in Detroit will contemplate the theme of borders, and how Detroit—a city recuperating from economic devastation—can consider the social, cultural, and economic divisions that contributed to the city’s demise and its controversial recovery.  At the same time, we will consider how the city’s diversity deconstructed borders and engaged democratic strategies that created a unique identity and a rich, complex heritage.  Understanding, how borders restrict Detroiters and how Detroiters bridge and engage them is essential to realizing an inclusive, dynamic future.

We invite proposals that consider how the humanities can:

  • Illuminate the ways that people and places come together in particular configurations over time
  • Create dynamic and truthful dialog about injustice and inequality 
  • Forge understandings of the present and the future through an understanding of the legacies of the past
  • Transcend the traditional limitations in our thinking about the cultural and economic diversity of our communities
  • Bring to light the creative dynamics at play in urban landscapes where borders can define communities and create belonging
  • Extend the borders of our imagination about the possibilities for the future of urban communities  
  • Contribute to our understanding of the ways that our physical and material environments express and reflect our community values

We also welcome proposals that share best practices of humanities organizations and examine ways to build capacity, including:

  • Fundraising and development: how to cultivate support from private and public entities including grant writing, annual appeals, individual planned giving, and crowdfunding campaigns
  • Operationalizing diversity, equity, and inclusion practices across nonprofit organizations, including programming, board recruitment, disaggregating data, and staff hiring and  retention
  • Communication strategies: how to enhance digital capacity and offerings and communicate through diverse media outlets to reach increasingly fragmented audiences
  • Advocacy and case-making: how to develop strategies at the local, state, and national levels
  • Audience cultivation: how to broaden (socio-economically, politically, geographically, etc.) audiences for public humanities work

In the spirit of the crossing borders and cultivating partnerships, we especially encourage session proposals that bring together humanities practitioners (state humanities council staff, museum workers, podcast producers, community historians, etc.) and scholars/academics.  



We invite proposals that model best practices in the public humanities. In other words, session leaders design lively, even fun ways of presenting information and participants are engaged as co-creators of knowledge. To that end, we encourage:

  • Sessions that model public humanities program design: dynamic, inclusive, and, where possible, participatory or hands-on.
  • Presentations that are concise and employ accessible language. We encourage moderators to ensure that presentations conform to predetermined limits: at least half of each session should involve audience participation.
  • Actionable takeaways that others can apply to their own practice or organization.
  • Sessions built around a problem, tension, or challenge in our work, with time for reflection and solutions-oriented discussion.


EXPERIENTIAL HUMANITIES PROGRAM: These sessions engage conference attendees in actual humanities programming, modeled on successful programs carried out throughout the year. Sessions that draw on the city or the surrounding area and/or convey a sense of place are especially encouraged.

FACILITATED DISCUSSION: One or two facilitators drive a conversation on a topic with a group of conference attendees. Conversations can broach themes of common interest, common challenges or points of tension within the humanities community. Topics for facilitated discussion should appeal to a wide range of conference participants in order to bring diverse voices into the conversation.

INTERVIEW: These sessions feature free-form dialogue between a humanities professional and an interviewer.

WORKSHOP: A hands-on session that teaches a particular skill set associated with program development, communications, collaboration, assessment, development/fundraising, cultivating new audiences or any other aspect of humanities programming.

ROUNDTABLE: Roundtables consist of a group of experts discussing a topic in front of an audience, rather than each presenting discrete remarks. A moderator leads the discussion and poses questions, but all participants speak equally about the topics. These sessions are limited to four discussants and one moderator.

PANEL: This traditional format includes a moderator and no more than three presenters. Presentations are timed so that at least half the session consists of moderator questions and discussion with the audience.

WORKING GROUP: Working groups are seminar-like conversations of at least eight people that explore, in-depth, a subject of shared interest. Working groups will be accepted even if they do not have eight participants, but additional participants will need to be recruited after the session is accepted. The working group convenes for a session at the conference, but also converses before the conference and develops a product after. Each working group will have a facilitator, responsible for organizing the pre- and post-conference exchanges and facilitating the conversation at the conference itself. Working groups can open up for audience observers or confine participation to the members of the working group.

FLASH PRESENTATION: Propose a short, individual presentation (5 minutes) that relates to the themes of the conference. The program committee will curate lightning round sessions of similarly themed presentations.


We invite proposals for individual flash presentations (5 minutes) that relate to the theme of the conference. The program committee will curate lightning round sessions of similarly themed presentations.


Please submit a session, workshop, or working group proposals via the online form here

Please submit a proposal for an individual flash presentation to be placed in a lightning talk via the online form here

The deadline for proposal submission is Friday, April 19, 2021 (extended from April 9, 2021).

For questions regarding the online submission form, please contact

We will host a small number of virtual sessions in association with the in-person National Humanities Conference. The session proposal will ask whether you wish to present only in a virtual conference. 

About the Federation of State Humanities Councils

Founded in 1977, the Federation of State Humanities Councils is the national member association of the U.S. state and jurisdictional humanities councils. The Federation’s purpose is to provide leadership, advocacy, and information to help members advance programs that engage millions of citizens across diverse populations in community and civic life.

About the Councils

The state humanities councils are independent nonprofit organizations supporting and creating grassroots humanities programs and community-based activities. Humanities councils were established by Congress in the early 1970s and receive an annual congressional appropriation through the National Endowment for the Humanities, which most councils supplement with state and private funding.

About the National Humanities Alliance

The National Humanities Alliance (NHA) is a nationwide coalition of organizations advocating for the humanities on campuses, in communities, and on Capitol Hill. Founded in 1981, NHA is supported by over 200 member organizations, including: colleges, universities, libraries, museums, cultural organizations, state humanities councils, and scholarly, professional, and higher education associations. It is the only organization that brings together the U.S. humanities community as a whole.