Application Advice: Gerald Ford Presidential Foundation

Throughout September we will be publishing articles detailing the experience and advice from winners of a number of grants and awards. The third post in our series is written by Dafydd Townley, recipient of the Gerald Ford Presidential Foundation Award, 2016.

This month I am visiting the United States for eighteen days to conduct primary source research central to my PhD thesis, ‘Spies, civil liberties and the Senate: the 1975 Church Committee’. It is the first time I have been to the US, and it is mainly due to the award I received from the Gerald Ford Presidential Foundation that I am able to spend such a significant amount of time there. The award has meant that I can spend three weeks conducting my research, the majority of which will be at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. The Library is housed in the North Campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, about fifty miles from the centre of Detroit.

The Foundation awards grants twice a year through its Research Travel Grants Program. Scholars aiming to conduct research at the Ford Library can apply for awards for up to $2200 for expenses incurred while researching. The award does not cover travel to the US, but does cover travel within the US. There are two cut-off dates each year – 15 March and 15 September, and while the process is not as laborious as some grant applications it is worthwhile planning well in advance. The application requires a CV and a two to three page description of the research being undertaken. Three academic references are required to support your application – the Foundation will contact them directly and inform you that they have been received. The applications are judged on the knowledge of the archives, the significance of the research, and whether the research project is suitable. The successful candidates usually get informed within the month following the cut-off date. There are no limits to the number of awards handed out each year, and the Foundation generally distributes up to $45000 each year. The awarded amount is then presented to you on your first day at the library.


The majority of Dafydd Townley’s research will be carried out at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library (Ann Arbor, MI) Credit: University of Michigan

My main application advice is ensure that you have a good knowledge of the documents that you are looking for. This can be done through prior research through the Library’s website search functions, or by contacting one of the archivists. The archivists use a powerful search tool called PRESNET which identifies the Library’s holdings that the online search tool can miss. My research on the 1975 Church Committee – the Senate investigation into the US intelligence community’s illegal activities – threatened to come to a halt because the official Committee notes were classified until 2025. However, I identified the Library’s holdings as essential to my research as they were the only official documents available relating to my thesis. I made a point of strongly underlining the crucial role of the Library’s holdings on my application.  In addition, I emphasised the importance to my thesis of illustrating the strategy undertaken by the Ford Administration in response to the Church Committee enquiry. By placing the Ford Library’s holdings as essential to my research seemed to lend my application some weight.

When I sought out guidance for my application I spoke to several archivists and institutions that award grants in the UK. The best advice I received concerned the third criteria that the Ford Library uses to judge applications: whether the research project is suitable. I was told quite bluntly that the awarding body does not want to rewrite your research project or PhD. Ensure your research is viable – are you asking the right questions? Can it be done in the time period? Is it original in its approach? Are the holdings that you are looking for going to assist in your research? The amount of homework you do on the Ford Library holdings will strengthen your application considerably, and the correspondence between yourself and the archivists will not go unnoticed. By the time I wrote my application I was aware not only of the collections that were relevant to my research, but also some of the box numbers and folders. I was also able to illustrate how the different files would help the different parts of my thesis, and all of this was due to my email conversations with the archivists.


The archives at Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library include a picture drawn forty-one years ago by a friend of an archivist at the Library. (Alan Walker, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library)

Finally, there are a number of tools to help applicants regarding the projected cost of the research. My advice is to ask as much as you can and be prepared to get less than that. The Foundation’s grant does not cover travel to the US, so I priced everything after arriving on a cheaper flight from London to New York. The difference between a direct flight to Detroit and New York was quite considerable, but I asked for the internal flight from New York to Detroit to be considered in my application. This made my own costs less although it did make my travel longer. Ann Arbor has a number of hotels, motels and AirBnB’s, but if you are able to travel outside of US term time, the University of Michigan do have some apartments that they can rent out to you if they are contacted well in advance.

In essence I would advise using the tools the Library has made available to you. The online search facility would give you some idea of the holdings available and whether they are relevant to your research. The archivists have detailed knowledge of the holdings and can assist you in narrowing down your research. And finally, the online tools are a good guide to how much the trip will cost and how much the Foundation will award. There are bargain places to stay that are available, but they are difficult to find and may not offer you what you need. Good luck!

For more information about the awards, prizes, and grants offered by the Gerald Ford Presidential Foundation, please visit here.


About Dafydd Townley

Dafydd Townley is a Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD student in the University of Reading's History Department. His doctoral thesis 'Spies, Civil Liberties, and the Senate: The 1975 Church Committee' investigates the conflict of maintaining national security while observing civil liberties in the United States. His interest include the United States Intelligence Committee and modern US political and social history.
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