Fellowship Selection Process

The Consortium has awarded over 100 research, dissertation and postdoctoral fellowships since 2007.  Fellowships are awarded on the basis of a rigorous peer-review process including several dozen scholars, librarians and archivists from around the world.  They work in three stages to rank the proposals according to two criteria:  which would make best use of the collections of Consortium members; and which are most likely to produce valuable contributions to scholarship.

Scholars submit fellowship applications online.  The Consortium website offers several resources to help applicants produce stronger applications: descriptions of members’ collections; research reports from previous fellows; a search of more than 4.4 million catalog records for rare books and manuscripts held throughout the collection; links to members’ online catalogs; and contact information for reference librarians at member institutions.  Scholars can also contact us directly with any questions they might have.

Once the applications are completed, they are evaluated by three groups of readers.  One group of readers comprises librarians and archivists representing Consortium member institutions.  These librarians and archivists read all applications that specifically request use of collections held at their own institutions.  They also read all project abstracts.  If they decide that a project would benefit from use of their collections, even if that collection is not mentioned by the applicant, they can submit an evaluation of that application as well. The librarians and archivists rate proposals according to whether they would make good use of the requested collections.  This rating is an attempt to answer several questions:  Are the cited collections relevant to the project’s research questions?  How much time might the researcher need in each collection?  Are the research questions interesting and well-posed?  How does the proposed research compare to other research using the same collections?

A second group of readers comprises scholars in the history of science, technology or medicine.  Some of these historians are affiliated with Consortium member institutions, but most are affiliated with other institutions around the world.  Each application is read by several historians, usually two who specialize in the topic of the project as well as one whose specialty may be in a different field.  The historians focus on the question of whether and to what extent the proposed project is likely to produce a valuable contribution to scholarship.  This involves addressing questions similar to those posed above, without reference to which collections might be used.  How interesting is the proposed project?  How does it relate to existing literature?  How likely is it to be completed as described?

The work of these two groups of readers results in several hundred evaluations, which are then made available, along with the applicants’ original applications, to a final selection committee.  This committee consists of five scholars, specifically not affiliated with Consortium members (though this requirement will get harder to meet as the Consortium continues to grow).  The members of the selection committee review the data and meet at the Consortium’s offices.  They discuss their reactions to the first two groups of readers’ evaluations, focusing especially on cases of evident disagreement between reviewers. Once they arrive at a rough ranking of the applications according to the two central criteria, they award fellowships until they exhaust the annual fellowship budget.  Postdoctoral fellowships are awarded first, then dissertation fellowships, and then research fellowships.

Each year, the Consortium evaluates the results of the fellowship process and sometimes makes adjustments.  The results are discussed by the Consortium’s Committee on Libraries and Archives as well as its Board of Directors.  For instance, we may adjust the questions that we ask the readers to address, or how the fellowships are advertised.  Adjustments have so far been relatively minor because the Consortium and our partner institutions have been very pleased with the results.  In fact, the quality of the Consortium’s fellows and the success of its fellowship program have been the main reasons for our expansion in the last several years.  We are very much looking forward to meeting the next class in the fall.