Humans Against Poor Scholarship – crowdfunding research through YouTube?

My husband, Josh, and I, have been running our YouTube channel, ‘Digital Hammurabi’, for just over a year. The purpose of Digital Hammurabi is to share good academic information with people who are otherwise unable to access it. Academic research is often published in expensive books, or in journals unknown or inaccessible to those outside the field, which makes it difficult for non-specialists to, for example, investigate claims made by unscrupulous tv shows and pseudo-archaeological publications. By sharing the education we have been privileged to receive, Josh and I hope to help combat the spread of misinformation – and to dispel the idea that academics live their lives in some kind of ivory tower, divorced from reality and the ‘normal’ lives of non-academics.

What initially started as a hobby, and a way for Josh to use his Ph.D. (he had to leave our professional field for various reasons) has morphed into a surprisingly successful venture. We reached 7,000 subscribers yesterday, and this month we completed the selection process for our crowdfunded summer research grant.

Yes, you read that right. Crowdfunded summer research grant.

We took the traditional route for YouTube content creators and set up a Patreon to try and generate some revenue. Instead, however, of using the Patreon to cover our costs, or pay ourselves for the time we spend making videos (a completely legitimate and sensible thing to do), we decided to go the less-traditional route and instead raise money for a summer research grant, aimed at current Ph.D. students in the various sub-disciplines of Ancient Near Eastern studies. We called the grant ‘HAPS’ – Humans Against Poor Scholarship. In order to give our donors a personal stake in academic research, we decided that they would have the opportunity to vote for the research they would like to see funded. We initially hoped to raise $2,000 to help fund one Ph.D. student’s summer research. To date, over 100 people have helped us raise just under $5,000, through monthly pledges via our Patreon, and one-time donations via PayPal. I’ve been incredibly surprised and humbled by the support we’ve received. This is far beyond what we anticipated for our first year, and I think really does show that non-specialists are both interested and invested in academia.

We received 17 applications from a wide variety of students, including Hebrew Biblicists, Archaeologists, Assyriologists, and Art Historians. The only requirements for applicants were that they are current Ph.D. students in a field related to the Ancient Near East, and that they agree to participate in one live interview as part of the selection process, and that successful applicants return after their summer projects to report back to the channel. Several withdrew their applications as they received funding elsewhere, and we ended up with thirteen applicants to interview. We ran a series of, frankly, awesome interviews (links at the end of this post), and then a week of voting. Our donors chose three fantastic students (one will be conducting a 3D scanning project, one will be taking a course on sampling stable isotopes, and one will be researching the book of Isaiah), and I am incredibly excited to have them back on the channel to hear about their research.

So, that’s what I’ve been spending a lot of time on recently. Setting up interviews, running livestreams, reminding people to vote and then announcing the successful applicants. We’re planning on this being an annual grant, and also to present the project at the ASOR conference next year! Next up – to turn HAPS into an actual non-profit 😀

HAPS Interviews 2019:

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