National Humanities Alliance

National Humanities Alliance Holds 2012 Annual Meeting & Humanities Advocacy Day

Participants convene in Washington, DC

March 23, 2012 – On Monday, March 19 – Tuesday, March 20, the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) held its 32nd Annual Meeting and 13th Humanities Advocacy Day. More than 250 individuals participated in the events. Activities in Washington, DC included a lightning round of presentations illustrating the value of humanities research, panel discussion on the role of the humanities in undergraduate education, luncheon and keynote address, policy briefing, Capitol Hill reception, and Congressional visits.

Pre-Meeting Events

Pre-meeting events took place Sunday, March 18 at the One Washington Circle Hotel. Representatives from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC), Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS), and the Title VI/Fulbright Hays International Education & Foreign Language Programs, led an overview session on humanities grants. Speakers included: Brett Bobley, Chief Information Officer and Director, Office of Digital Humanities, NEH; William Craig Rice, Director, Division of Education Programs, NEH; Kathleen Williams, Executive Director, NHPRC; Connie Bodner, Senior Program Officer, Office of Museum Services, IMLS; and Kimoanh Nguyen-Lam, Program Director, International and Foreign Language Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education.

An advocacy training session was held later in the evening. Ember Farber, Federal Policy Representative & Grassroots Manager at the American Association of Museums, joined Jessica Irons, Consultant, National Humanities Alliance, to facilitate the training. Participants reviewed the importance of advocacy, how Congressional offices work, what to expect on Hill visits, communicating effectively, and meeting follow up.

Annual Membership Business Meeting

Michael Brintnall, NHA’s elected President (and Executive Director, American Political Science Association), convened the Annual Membership Business Meeting at 9:00am on Monday, March 19 at the George Washington University’s (GWU) Marvin Center. NHA member representatives heard reports on the Alliance’s 2011 activities and the status of the search for a new Executive Director. On behalf of the NHA Board and membership, Brintnall thanked Jessica Irons for her work at the Alliance during the past 13 years and welcomed Duane Webster in his role as Interim Executive Director. Member representatives also elected directors and officers to the Board. Click here for more information on the 2012 Board and Officers elections. 


The first morning panel presentation was a lightning round session illustrating the value of humanities research. Duane Webster, Interim Executive Director, NHA, moderated the panel including Luanne von Schneidemesser, Senior Editor, DARE, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Kenneth Price, Hillegass University Professor of American Literature & Co-Director, Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (University of Nebraska-Lincoln); Colin Gordon, Professor of History (University of Iowa); Connie Lester, Associate Professor, History (University of Central Florida); and William Ladusaw, Dean, University of California, Santa Cruz. Participants enjoyed hearing about the Dictionary of American Regional English, Walt Whitman Archive, Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City, RICHES (the Regional Initiative for Collecting the History, Experiences, and Stories) of Central Florida, and the Center for World History. These projects served as innovative examples of work in the humanities for participants attending Congressional visits on Humanities Advocacy Day.

David Berry, Executive Director, Community College Humanities Association, moderated the second morning panel on the role of the humanities in undergraduate education. The theme of workforce development ran throughout the presentations. Hunter Rawlings, President, Association of American Universities, spoke about James Madison’s background as a student of the humanities and author and defender of the Constitution. Rawlings said, “We need to make a firm distinction between getting trained for a job and educated for a lifetime.” Parents often ask Raynard Kington, President, Grinnell College, about the job prospects for humanities majors. He also shared his thoughts on the value of the humanities in undergraduate education. Sandra L. Kurtinitis, President, The Community College of Baltimore County, discussed the role of community colleges in undergraduate education. She said, “Everything we do is workforce development.”

Keynote Address

Richard H. Brodhead, President, Duke University and Co-Chair, Commission on the Humanities & Social Sciences (American Academy of Arts & Sciences) delivered the luncheon keynote address. Brodhead began his speech by asking, “What do Martin Dempsey, Harold Varmus and Steve Jobs have in common?” The answer, Brodhead stated, is that they are leaders in national security, medicine, and economic innovation that all studied the humanities on the way to another career. 

After discussing the remarkable careers and achievements of Dempsey, Varmus, and Jobs, Brodhead reminded the audience of the value proposition for the humanities. “Pleasure, enriched awareness, command of words, the citizen's disposition toward others, equipment to navigate a multi-cultural global environment: humanities training is at the core of every one of these, and of at least one thing more,” said Brodhead. ”For the humanities are a key enabler of creativity. To create a new thing, you have to envision a possibility where none is apparent, and this is a skill that improves with practice.”

Brodhead acknowledged the humanities advocates in attendance and said, “My colleagues, you are the engines of our shared project, and all of us on the Commission are grateful for your work that transforms the abstract notion of the humanities into an engaging experience for many people every day.” 

The full text of President Brodhead’s address is available here

Capitol Hill Reception

At the conclusion of the afternoon sessions at GWU, participants traveled to the Rayburn House Office Building’s Gold Room for the evening’s reception co-sponsored by HISTORY. Libby O’Connell, HISTORY’s Chief Historian and Senior Vice President, Corporate Outreach, helped welcome meeting participants and Congressional and agency staff. Special guest speakers from NEH and NARA included Jim Leach, Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities and David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States. Members of Congress delivering remarks included Representative David Price (D-NC), Co-Chair, Congressional Humanities Caucus; Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ); and Representative Howard Coble (R-NC). 

Congressional Visits

On Tuesday, March 20, 107 advocates visited 121 House and Senate offices representing 32 states. Grassroots advocates distributed issue briefs and discussed humanities projects in their states and districts. Among other priorities, constituents asked Members of Congress to provide no less than $154.3 million in funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Other issues covered by advocates included the National Historical Publications & Records Commission, HEA-Title VI/Fulbright Hays International Education Programs, Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Program (also Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need), Institute of Museum & Library Services, Library of Congress, and the Minerva Research Initiative.  Information on the Alliance’s federal funding priorities is available here.

Additional information about the Alliance’s Annual Meeting & Humanities Advocacy Day, including photos and written remarks, will be posted here in the coming weeks.

Related content: Events, NHA News