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Interrogating violence

Image: David Henig

The specialist funder perfect for pilot studies on human aggression

The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation’s Distinguished Scholar Awards support research that promises to increase our understanding of the causes, manifestations and control of violence and aggression. Priority goes to applications that contribute to tackling urgent problems of violence in the modern world, and to areas not receiving adequate attention from other funders.

Grants usually range from $15,000 to $45,000 (£10,600 to £31,800) a year for one or two years and are intended to cover research expenses. The scheme is open now and the deadline for applications is 1 August. Scholars anywhere in the world may apply. 

David Henig, an associate professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and a winner in last year’s call, says a good fit with the foundation’s grant-making priorities is crucial. His project investigates the aftermath of war in former Yugoslavian countries.

How did your project start?

I’d been working in post-war Bosnia for over 15 years on various topics. Since the beginning, I’d been aware of the presence of unexploded ordnance from the Bosnian war. As I travelled around the country, I noticed that some parts had been cleared of explosives and other military waste, but many parts hadn’t. I became interested in how people navigated their lives in such a potentially deadly environment. And it’s not just explosives that have transformed the landscape. There are many layers of problems that people in these rural communities have to deal with. After I’d finished my original projects—which were mainly focused on religion—I decided it was time to focus properly on this topic.

And you needed funding?

Exactly. I started looking into various funding programmes. Although I had already published a couple of papers on the topic, I still felt I needed to do some pilot research before moving towards a bigger funding scheme. The Distinguished Scholar Award covered exactly what I needed as an anthropologist—namely, fieldwork expenses. Small research grants, especially in the social sciences and humanities, are increasingly difficult to come by. Since my project deals with the long-lasting effects of war, it felt like a good fit.

How was the application?

It was straightforward compared with applications I’ve prepared for UK and European funders. In my experience, United States funding processes are less bureaucratic and funders tend to place a lot more trust in applicants. This may have something to do with the fact that grants are often not as substantial as they are in the UK, and often exclude overheads.

What elements of your research did you highlight?

Obviously, the project had to fit within the foundation’s scope, which is either urgent or enduring problems associated with violence. I highlighted the fact that the focus was often on the immediacy of war rather than on its long-lasting effects, which is a prominent aspect of my project. I also highlighted my intention to extend my research across the border to Croatia, which is also still full of landmines. I think the introduction of this comparative dimension helped my application.

Do you have any tips for future applicants?

Think carefully about what the mission of the organisation is and how your project can speak to those aims. The foundation’s website has a list of scholars who were awarded funding in previous rounds, which gives you a good overview of the kind of projects the foundation is interested in. I actually got in touch with a previous awardee and asked them what they thought of my project and whether it would be a good fit, and they encouraged me to apply.

Did you find anything challenging about the application?

It wasn’t necessarily the application process that was challenging so much as the circumstances. The foundation requires two letters of recommendation to be sent directly to them, which turned out to be a challenge during the pandemic. I had to chase my referees, who were dealing with their own problems at the time. Other than that, it was fairly straightforward. It’s good practice to contact your referees well in advance and discuss your deadlines with them.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your project?

I’m planning to do some fieldwork later this year and next year. But the vaccination rollout here in the Netherlands is slow and I still don’t have a date for my first jab. A lot depends on that. Like most other funders, the foundation offers a degree of flexibility and acknowledgement of the impacts of Covid. For example, I may be able to use some of the money to get a research assistant to help me speed up.

What do you hope to achieve through your research?

Most importantly, I would like to raise people’s awareness about the long-lasting and often invisible effects that explosives continue to have during peacetime. It’s an urgent topic because the number of landmines and other explosive ordnance being used is rising again, due to conflicts in places such as Syria and Myanmar.

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com