I recently received my “decline to fund” letter from BigHumanitiesFellowship; it was brief and to the point. It included the stock points: lots of applicants to chose from, tough decision, best of luck, etc. I am not disappointed by the outcome. It was a long shot and I got a lot out of the process of putting together a chapter and staking my future to the overall ‘contribution.’*
The only real disappointment was the letter itself. Considering how much time we all put into this I would have like more than unremarkable stock phrases. Left to my druthers, I wanted something like “your application made it to X round and we thought it needed to be stronger in [stating the contribution/identifying sources/explaining the methodology/relevance to our foundation’s mission].” Or even “we thought this was really promising and in a pinch we chose another project because we just liked it better.” I can sympathize with this position; sometimes these things just come down to personal preference.**
This line of thinking led me to consider the dark underbelly of these competitions. Where available, I’ve looked over the projects (and people) FellowshipFoundations have funded and I couldn’t help but notice that, well, they really love themselves an academic pedigree. A clear majority of FellowshipWinners get degrees from BigEasternSchools – IVs, even. There is generally a BigSouthern or BigWestern school in the mix. Overall, such prizes tend to stay in the already well-off “family.” I don’t imply that BigEasternSchools aren’t worthy of BigHumanitiesFellowships, but considering the interconnection between FellowshipFoundations, BigEasternSchools, and money, I can’t help but wonder if, in a pinch, the committees just turn to what they know – a familiar pedigree.*** Looking at the process from this angle (that of the dark underbelly), it has the grotesque scars of bias written all over it. This would be quite disappointing.
With these considerations in mind, I’ve decided to go with the first theory rather than the gloomy one. And to plug along at the quickest pace I can muster.
*This seems to have already paid off with a recommendation from someone I don’t know to participate in a conference I should go to.
**though how anyone could not prefer my project is inconceivable. :)
***this supposition was reinforce to me last week when one DissertatingBuddy said she was glad she was a historian (and working with BigNameAdvisor) because other disciplines – she has heard – generally evaluate prospective hires based on their university while historians look to who you worked with. (And, I would add, what you’ve done.)