The Public Scholar program supports well-researched books in the humanities intended to reach a broad readership. Although humanities scholarship can be specialized, the humanities also strive to engage broad audiences in exploring subjects of general interest. They seek to deepen our understanding of the human condition as well as current conditions and contemporary problems. The Public Scholar program aims to encourage scholarship that will be of broad interest and have lasting impact. Such scholarship might present a narrative history, tell the stories of important individuals, analyze significant texts, provide a synthesis of ideas, revive interest in a neglected subject, or examine the latest thinking on a topic. Books supported by this program must be grounded in humanities research and scholarship. They must address significant humanities themes likely to be of broad interest and must be written in a readily accessible style. Making use of primary and/or secondary sources, they should open up important and appealing subjects for wider audiences. The challenge is to make sense of a significant topic in a way that will appeal to general readers.
By establishing the Public Scholar program, NEH enters a long-term commitment to encourage scholarship in the humanities for general audiences. In the early rounds of the competition, NEH especially welcomes applicants who are in the writing stages of their projects or who already have a commitment from a publisher. However, the Public Scholar program also supports projects in the early stages of development. The program is open to both individuals affiliated with scholarly institutions and independent scholars.