National Humanities Check-In Week: Urge Your Member of Congress to Support Humanities Funding

This week, October 3rd through October 7th, is Humanities Check-In Week. We are joining forces with the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities on this nation-wide campaign to “check in” with Members of Congress to remind them that federal funding for the humanities is essential.  

Please join us by writing to your Members of Congress in support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and encouraging others to do so. Your messages are critical to show Members that their constituents value the National Endowment for the Humanities and the humanities more generally. While you’re doing this, government relations staff from higher education institutions will be contacting their Members of Congress to highlight the dynamic humanities work happening on their campuses and underscore that federal funding provides essential support for this work. 

Why Now?

We are launching this week-long event at this particular moment for three key reasons.

The appropriations cycle has shifted in recent years.

Traditionally, advocacy for Congressional appropriations takes place in February and March as the administration releases its budget request and the House and Senate appropriations committees craft and release their spending bills. This is why we host our Humanities Advocacy Day in March every year. 

In recent years, Congress has failed to pass those appropriations bills. As a result, the appropriations cycle has extended into the fall with continuing resolutions and, finally, an omnibus appropriations package, which funds the government with one bill. Last year, an omnibus was passed in December, and we expect similar timing this year. Given this new timeline, it is crucial to tell Members of Congress that humanities funding is essential in March on advocacy day and to check in with a reminder as the appropriations process heats up again in the fall.

In general, Congress should hear more from us.

Many Members of Congress have not heard from their constituents about the humanities recently. We and our partners advocate year-round, but it is important for Members of Congress to hear that their constituents believe the humanities are important. Yes, we hold advocacy day in March to align with the appropriations cycle, but we also see it as a key opportunity to educate Members of Congress about the humanities in their communities irrespective of funding requests. Ideally, this engagement between the Member and their local humanities community should be on-going and involve invitations to humanities events and updates on the impact of grants to the district and innovative programs on campuses and in communities. Humanities Check-In, scheduled about six months after advocacy day, ensures that your legislators hear about the humanities from their constituents at least twice a year and that we set the stage for a deepening relationship.

It is National Arts and Humanities Month

Since 1993, October has been celebrated as National Arts and Humanities Month. President Obama issues a proclamation marking the occasion each year in late September. In this year’s statement, he noted “in many ways, the arts and humanities reflect our national soul. They are central to who we are as Americans—as dreamers and storytellers, creators and visionaries.” We encourage you to celebrate this month in many ways, including with a message to your Members of Congress to reiterate the value of the humanities.

What Can I Do?

Please join the campaign by writing your Member of Congress—it only takes one minute! Then, spread the word by sharing the link to the campaign or this blog post on Facebook or Twitter, and ask your friends to take action in support of the humanities!

You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter as we raise awareness and track the progress of the campaign all week.

Thank you for your support!

House Appropriations Committees Approves Level Funding for Fulbright-Hays

We started to hear that good news was on its way last week, and this morning it arrived: the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill providing $65.103 million for Title VI and $7.061 million for Fulbright-Hays, international education programs. These funding levels, the same as last year, are a significant victory after the President requested and the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a 69% cut to Fulbright-Hays.

Thank you to all who took action to urge your Representatives to support at least level funding for Fulbright-Hays and Title VI. The outpouring of support for international education was remarkable! Thanks to letters from advocates, we reached 419 of the 434 members of the House. This included Representatives from all 50 states. All together the House received over 4,500 messages.

The House and Senate will ultimately need to reconcile their differences on Fulbright-Hays funding for FY 2017. When this process begins to unfold, we will reach out to our advocates again to urge their Senators to support the House’s levels.

Thank you again to all who sent messages to your Members of Congress!


Senate Proposes Drastic Cuts to Fulbright-Hays

On Thursday, June 9 the Senate Appropriations Committee sent to the Senate floor a Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill that would cut Fulbright-Hays by 69% to $2.168 million while maintaining level funding for Title VI at $65.103 million. The proposed cut to Fulbright-Hays would devastate the program—if enacted, there will be no new competitions for Fulbright-Hays grants in the coming year.

What is Fulbright-Hays?

Title VI and Fulbright-Hays are the Department of Education’s programs that support foreign language learning and international education. Fulbright-Hays, specifically, ensures that students and teachers can acquire language and area expertise with on-the-ground experience overseas through two programs: Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad, which provides grants to colleges and universities to fund individual doctoral students to conduct research abroad, particularly in world regions not normally included in U.S. curricula; and Group Projects Abroad, which supports seminars, curriculum development, group research, and advanced intensive language programs for American teachers, students, and faculty abroad.

These programs have been extremely effective. A 2008 Department of Education study concluded that participants in the Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program were more likely to finish their degrees and did so in less time than their peers, and that 90% of graduates directly utilized their foreign language and area studies expertise in their careers. 

Haven’t these programs been targeted before?

Overall, the Title VI and Fulbright Hays infrastructure has been severely depleted in recent years. Due to disproportionate funding reductions since FY 2011, Fulbright-Hays’ budget has already declined from $15.6 million in FY 2010 to $7.1 million in FY 2016. Title VI’s budget, meanwhile, has declined from $110.3 in FY 2010 to $65.1 in FY 2016, resulting in 25% fewer nationally recognized resource centers, 18% fewer undergraduate and doctoral fellowships, fewer training opportunities for students and teachers, and fewer outreach activities to government and business.

Just last year, the humanities community rallied to defeat a proposed 35% cut to Title VI which would have amounted to a 63% decrease in funding since FY 2010. After more than 15,000 letters to Congress and many meetings with Congressional staff, the programs ultimately received level funding in the final omnibus appropriations package.

What’s Next?

The Senate has sent this draft legislation to the floor, where we expect that it will pass, as it did in committee. However, the House has not yet released its own draft Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill. It is important that the House draft provides level-funding for Fulbright-Hays, thereby setting up a difference to be resolved in conference or in a final omnibus appropriations package.

At this critical time as the House considers funding levels for Title VI and Fulbright-Hays, please urge your Members of Congress to oppose cuts to Fulbright-Hays! Click here to send a message to your elected officials. It takes just one minute!

The House Budget Committee Calls for Eliminating Federal Funding for NEH

Supporters of the humanities were understandably concerned last week when the House Budget Committee called for eliminating federal funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and other cultural agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the House Budget Committee has called for the zeroing out NEH’s funding. Its 2017 Budget Report contains the same language used in budget reports since FY 2012. As in previous years, the report states that cultural agencies go “beyond the core mission of the Federal Government,” that government support raises the “risk of political interference,” and that private sources alone should fund the humanities. Similar language has been included in a series of policy briefs issued by the Cato Institute since at least the mid-1990s.

The 2017 Budget Report is concerning in that it reflects a persistent ideological opposition to federal funding for humanities research, teaching, programming, and preservation. It also ignores two key facts about NEH and humanities funding: that NEH grants are peer-reviewed and that private funding for the humanities is limited and tends to have a much narrower reach than NEH funding.

That said, the resolution will likely have little impact on how the appropriations process proceeds this year and how much funding the NEH and other cultural agencies receive. Why is this the case?

  • The Budget Committee’s Budget Resolution and accompanying report sets the overall funding level for the government and lays out the committee’s vision for federal spending over a 10-year period. Aside from the overall spending level, the document is largely symbolic. It is used to assert the majority’s priorities for the media and as a rallying point for the party, but its programmatic recommendations are non-binding. It does not dictate funding levels for individual departments, agencies, or programs.
  • The Appropriations Committee and its twelve subcommittees—not the Budget Committee—decide how funds will be allocated among the departments, agencies, and programs that come under their purview.
  • The Budget Committee is not ideologically aligned with the Appropriations Committee. In recent years, the Budget Committee, particularly in the House, has been filled with many of the House’s most conservative members. By contrast, the vast majority of members of the Appropriations Committee are pragmatic and more moderate. More specifically, the Appropriations Committee is far friendlier to the humanities. Just last year, it approved a nearly $2 million increase for NEH, the first increase in 6 years. As the budget crises have unfolded on Capitol Hill in recent years, members of the Appropriations Committee, including Republicans, have become increasingly and even openly exasperated with the ideological rigidity of the Budget Committee.
  • As the economy has improved and increased revenues have undermined arguments for continued fiscal austerity, there are signs that more Members of Congress are willing to support humanities funding. Representatives Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and David Price (D-NC) wrote a letter to the Appropriations Committee requesting that NEH be funded at $155 million, a level that would increase its budget for FY 2017 by over $7 million dollars. When our advocates met with Members of Congress on Humanities Advocacy Day, they asked them to sign on to this letter and support an increase. In the end, 136 Representatives signed, including ten Republicans, eight of whom had met with our advocates. Last year, only 116 signed—including only four Republicans.

Given all this, the Budget Committee Report is not a good indicator of how Congress as a whole, or appropriators in particular, feel about federal investment in the humanities. That said, the opinions of the Budget Committee should not be dismissed. Many members of the committee are quite vocal. Their commentary promotes the perception that support for NEH is a partisan position and that Republicans who support federal funding have heterodox views. This perception could ultimately undermine moderate Republican’s support for the NEH and create pressure to defund the agency should Republicans control the White House and Congress. In summary, the Budget Resolution will likely have little impact on the appropriations process this year, but it is a reminder that advocates need to continue making the case for federal investment in the humanities.



Humanities Advocacy Day 2016

It is March and the appropriations process on Capitol Hill is gaining steam. In early February, President Obama released his budget request, which outlined how his administration hoped to allocate $4.2 trillion in FY 2017. On March 23rd, the House Budget Committee issued its non-binding budget recommendations. Now the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are at work to allocate funds across the government, and Members of Congress are communicating their top funding priorities to those committees.

We host Humanities Advocacy Day every March to align with this process so that as Members of Congress weigh priorities, they know that federal funding for the humanities is crucial to communities around the country. 

This year’s Humanities Advocacy Day, on March 15th, brought advocates from 40 states into Congressional Offices. These advocates were broadly representative of the humanities community: leaders and members of scholarly societies; deans and faculty from two- and four-year colleges and universities; representatives from humanities centers; and archivists and librarians. Together, they advocated for a range of humanities funding streams and policy issues. Below, Sylvea Hollis, a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Iowa who is currently working at the American Alliance of Museums, discusses humanities funding with James Rice in Senator Grassley's office.


Most advocates championed the value of the National Endowment for the Humanities and urged their Members of Congress to sign letters circulating in the House and Senate requesting increased funding for NEH. In making this pitch, they described their own work and highlighted NEH grants to the Members’ districts. They worked to build understanding of the NEH’s new Common Good initiative, which harnesses the power of the humanities to address society’s most pressing challenges. Below, Dan Kubis of the University of Pittsburgh discusses the university's "Year of the Humanities" with a staffer from Senator Bob Casey's office. 


Advocates also noted that NEH’s funding has been severely eroded in recent years. Despite its first increase in six years for FY 2016, it is still operating at 19% of its FY 2010 budget. While the president’s FY 2017 request would allot nearly $2 million more to NEH, bringing its funding level to $149.8 million, we are requesting $155 million in the hope of moving closer to rebuilding NEH’s capacity. 

Many participants also advocated for Title VI and Fulbright-Hays. These programs faced a nearly 40% cut in FY 2011, from $125.9 million to $75.8 million, and then subsequent cuts in the following year. For the past three years, these programs have been funded at $72.2 million. Despite this recent decline, President Obama requested a 69% reduction to the Fulbright-Hays program for FY 2017. Our advocates urged Congress to reject these proposed cuts, explaining, based on first-hand experience, why programs that fund scholars, students, and teachers to develop deep cultural knowledge should receive more funding, not less. They also asked their Members of Congress to sign letters circulating in the House and Senate that asked for at least level funding (House) and a $6.5 million increase (Senate).

Still others advocated for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), commonly referred to as the “grant-making arm” of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). They urged Congress to provide at least $5 million for the NHPRC grant program, as requested in the President’s budget. Those advocating for NHPRC discussed their first-hand experience working on projects such as the George Washington Papers at the University of Virginia and the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers at George Washington University.

Other advocates discussed a bill to protect cultural heritage in Syria, funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and funding for K-12 history and civics educations. For an overview of all of NHA's policy priorities, click here.

Social media was a great tool for amplifying the message of the day. As Rachel Arteaga, of the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington noted, "Many of my posts, which were short and simple notes of gratitude for having taken the time to meet with me on the importance of the humanities, were noticed and shared by the offices. I am encouraged that these channels will continue to be effective means of communicating updates on NEH-funded work in my state in the months between our annual visits to Capitol Hill."



In conjunction with these Hill visits, we ran an action alert so that advocates who were unable to travel to Washington could let their Members of Congress know that they support humanities funding. And it isn’t too late! You can still take action to ask your Members of Congress to support funding for the humanities.


Photography by Kwana Strong Photography (

Omnibus Spending Packages Holds Good News for Humanities Funding

Earlier today, the House and Senate each approved an omnibus appropriations package. The president has pledged to sign it into law. This package boosts NEH’s funding for the first time in six years and provides level funding for the severely threatened Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs.

That Title VI and Fulbright-Hays received level funding is a major victory. In August, the senate Appropriations Committee approved, on party lines, a $25 million or 35% reduction to the Department of Education’s Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs. This proposal came after major cuts just five years ago and would have amounted to a $78.955 million or 63% decrease in funding since FY 2010.

The humanities community rallied to oppose these proposed cuts. Members of Congress received over 15,000 letters from humanities advocates on Title VI and Fulbright-Hays alone. We worked closely with the Coalition for International Education and our university partners to underscore that these cuts would severely erode the nation’s capacity in international education and foreign language education.

In the end, both Title VI and Fulbright-Hays will receive level funding: Title VI is set to receive $65.1 million and Fulbright-Hays is set to receive $7.2 million. This was made possible by both a robust advocacy effort from the humanities community and the October Budget deal that raised spending caps and provided additional funding for the Appropriations Committee to distribute.

NEH, meanwhile, will see a nearly $2 million funding boost from its FY 2015 level, and will be funded at $147.9 million, the level the President requested for FY 2016. After both House and Senate’s draft Interior Appropriations bills proposed level funding earlier this year, the Appropriations committee chose to use some of the additional funds made available through the October budget deal to appropriate a larger allotment of funds to NEH. This is a testament to the efforts of the many advocates who made the case for the importance of NEH funding over the course of the year. This modest increase is especially encouraging given proposals to slash NEH’s funding in recent years.

And there is still more good news, including much-needed bumps for IMLS, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian and continued level funding for programs such as NHPRC. See more detailed appropriations information here.

As a previous blog post by Robert Townsend noted, most humanities funding lines have suffered significantly since 2008, and the programs and agencies, such as Title VI and NEH, that provide grants to fund humanities work outside of the federal government,have suffered disproportionately. While the increases this year are modest, they signal that support for humanities programs is growing on Capitol Hill. Now is the time to build on this support and begin pushing to restore the funding capacity that these agencies have lost in recent years. We look forward to working with you in the coming year to make the case for higher appropriations for FY 2017!

Huge Cuts Proposed to Already Depleted International Education and Foreign Language Programs

What does it take to make sure that languages like Hindi, Javanese, Urdu, Ukrainian, and Swahili are taught consistently and effectively in the United States? And to provide opportunities for students to acquire expertise in international cultures to complement their language skills? And to support the training of specialists—from scholars to diplomats to aid workers—with advanced language and area studies training?

It takes the Department of Education’s international education and foreign languages programs, also known as Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs. These are the cornerstone of our educational system’s capacity to provide instruction and research on over 200 less-commonly taught languages and on all regions of U.S. strategic interest. In 2007, a National Research Council study found that HEA-Title VI and Fulbright-Hays “have served as the foundation for internationalization in higher education at modest cost, while stimulating substantial additional investment by universities themselves.” 

Despite the crucial role these programs play, in late June, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved, on party lines, a $25 million or 35% reduction to the Department of Education’s Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs. The Senate’s proposed reduction comes after major cuts just five years ago, and if enacted, would amount to a $78.955 million or 63% decrease in funding since FY 2010.

Imposing the Senate committee’s proposed additional cuts to Title VI and Fulbright-Hays would further erode the world-class educational and research capacity that has been built and strengthened over several decades and which cannot be easily replaced.

Why did this happen?

The Senate’s proposed cut must be understood in the context of self-imposed discretionary spending caps (also known as sequestration) currently in place. In order to stay within these spending caps, appropriators have had to cut spending on average—leading them to offset increases with deeper cuts for some programs than for others. Congressional staff sources have indicated that the reduction to Title VI and Fulbright Hays was not the result of specific animosity towards these programs among Republican committee members but rather, a failure to see them as a priority given the funding constraints.

What happens next?

We need to change this perception and make clear to Members of Congress that Title VI and Fulbright-Hays is indeed a priority for many of their constituents and that training students and scholars in foreign language and international and area studies is a key national priority.

In October. Congress reached a budget agreement that raises discretionary spending caps over the next two years. Now, Appropriators in the House and Senate are negotiating FY 2016 funding levels for specific programs. We want to ensure that the House Appropriations Committee’s approved level funding for the Department of Education’s international education programs prevails in negotiations over the Senate’s number.

In collaboration with the Coalition for International Education, we are recommending that the final appropriations bill fund Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs at their FY 2015 levels, as provided by the House committee bill.

What can we do to preserve this funding?

You can tell your members of Congress directly that you support the work of Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs to cultivate the deep language proficiency, historical knowledge, and cultural literacy that are critical to productive engagement with the world. Click here to send a message to your elected officials.  

Meanwhile, we at the National Humanities Alliance are reaching out directly to recipients of Title VI and Fulbright-Hays funding who are located in key congressional districts and working with them to meet with their members of Congress.

If you want to find out more ways to be involved in this campaign, please contact us at!

Recent Cuts to Federal Humanities Funding are Wide-Reaching

The Humanities Indicators recently released a new analysis of federal support for the humanities: this is funding that goes to the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as programs at various other agencies, including many Smithsonian Institution museums, the Department of Education, the National Park Service, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Together, the funding supports scholars and teachers, museums, cultural institutions, public programs and preservation activities.

When compared to levels for humanities funding in 2008, funding in 2015 has dropped from $1.3 billion to $1.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.  This amounts to a 7.7% decrease since 2008, which at first glance, does not appear a drastic reduction over a period known for the Great Recession, sequestration, and bitter budget debates.

Nonetheless, when we zoom in further, we see that almost every federal funding line for the humanities has decreased far more than 7.7%. More specifically, it is the grant programs that spread federal dollars to scholars, students, and humanities programs around the countries that have suffered disproportionately.  Since the start of the budget disruptions of the Great Recession, the deepest cuts occurred in the Department of Education, with the termination of the Teaching American History Program, the effective termination (through merger) of the Javits Fellowship Program (the only federal program supporting graduate education in the humanities), as well as deep cuts in budget lines supporting foreign language, area, and other international studies. History and historic preservation programs supported under the National Park Service also took substantial cuts from 2008 to 2015, with a 19% decrease.

The budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities lost 8.8% in inflation-adjusted value from 2008 to 2015, falling from $162.0 million to $147.8 million. (The high watermark for recent funding occurred in 2010, when the agency received an appropriation of $184 million, calculated in inflation adjusted dollars.)

The Library of Congress experienced a 4% decrease in funding from $426 million in 2008 to $410 million in 2015, but the humanities-focused Kluge center, which supports humanities scholars, experienced a 10% reduction, to $8.1 million.

The National Historical Publication and Records Commission, which offers small grants for preservation and publication of documentary sources, saw its funding slashed from $10.64 million to $5 million, a 56.4% reduction.

That humanities funding as a whole has only decreased by 7.7% is largely because the budget for the Museum of African American History and Culture expanded from $5.2 million to $41.15 million. While a promising development, this increase was largely due to final development and construction costs for the museum (which is scheduled to open in 2016). While this may be a welcome expenditure for the humanities community, it is only a short term funding burst as expenditures for on-going programs have been seriously depleted. Another institution that has fared well is the School of Language Studies within the Foreign Service Institute, which serves the country’s diplomatic officers specifically. Its budget climbed to $136.03 million from $56.62, a 140% increase. Again, this is a welcome development and bolsters national diplomacy, but it should not obscure the nearly uniform decreases in grant lines for other humanities work taking place around the country.

Congress passed a budget bill in October that raised the spending caps a small amount and is now at work to appropriate funds for FY 2016. The appropriations process over the next weeks will show whether humanities funding can regain some of the ground it lost over the past seven years.  



Nourishing Our Spirits Through Our Language & Children

I met the film-maker Larry Hott three years before he began filming Rising Voices/Hótȟaŋiŋpi, an NEH-funded documentary that tells the story of our tribe's efforts to revitalize the Lakota language. At the time, I was an avid learner of the Lakota language, but I wasn't yet an instructor in the Lakota Language Nest, a pre-school where children are immersed in the Lakota language. The year I met him, Larry came to the community to take preliminary notes. The following year we recorded audio, and the year after we recorded video. The fourth year was when we recorded the majority of the film. When I was asked for an interview, I thought it was a great opportunity to tell the story of our pre-school and of Standing Rock’s communities more generally.

Only six years ago, the Lakota language on Standing Rock was in imminent danger of being one of the hundreds of tribal languages across America that was on the path to silence. Today, the average age of a fluent first-language speaker is 70 years old and the majority of the younger population does not speak or understand their heritage language. The current state of the Lakota language is a repercussion of deliberate federal mandates and policies that prohibited the speaking and learning of the Lakota language for more than 70 years. I believe that the lack of access to our language has contributed to a cultural identity void that leaves our people susceptible to social ills, such as alcohol and drug use and sexual and domestic violence. 

In 2012, the Lakota Language Nest began as a small, preschool with one goal: to nourish the Lakota language among Standing Rock's youngest citizens. The children, aged two to four, are immersed in the Lakota language throughout their eight hour day. Typical pre-school activities—story time, singing lullabies, sequencing and sorting—are carried out exclusively in the Lakota language. The school also provides cultural immersion. Everyday Lakota Language Nest staff and children began with smudging, spiritually cleansing with traditional medicines, and singing a Lakota prayer song. Lakota traditional protocols such as shaking hands, praying before meals, expressing gratitude, and using relative kinship terms are the norm in the classroom.

The children who attend this small school are the first child speakers of the Lakota language in Standing Rock's communities in over fifty years. They are now equipped with gifts from their language –a strong Lakota identity and Lakota culture and belief that they can share with their families and peers.  We witness on a daily basis the revitalization of the Lakota language through our children. This is extremely satisfying. 

Featured prominently in the film Rising Voices, the Lakota Language Nest is a collaboration of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's Education Department, the Lakota Language Consortium and Sitting Bull College. This strong partnership has allowed the program to continue expanding with the Nest's initial cohort, and there is a sequenced plan in place to grow it into a full-fledged Lakota Language immersion elementary school.

Rising Voices has provided us with a rare opportunity to offer the public an in-depth account of why the Lakota language has come close to disappearing. More importantly, it has allowed us to tell the story of our ongoing efforts to revitalize our language and communities. The children who attend the Lakota Language Nest play a key role in these efforts. They are little leaders, paving a new path for a new generation of Lakota children who will nourish their people's spirit's back to health through speaking the language of their relatives in the generations before them.



Tipiziwin Tolman, Wičhíyena Dakota and Húŋkpapȟa Lakȟóta from Standing Rock, is a Lakota Language Activities Instructor in the Lakota Language Nest since 2012. She has served as a member and co-chair of Standing Rock’s Education Consortium’s Lakota Language and Culture Committee and taught at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s annual Lakotiyapi Summer Institute. Tipiziwin is a graduate of Sitting Bull College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies. She also completed the College’s intensive Lakota language teacher preparation program involving the study of the Lakota language, second-language teaching approaches and language acquisition methodologies. She is married to T Tolman, who is a Lakota language instructor in the Wičhákini Owáyawa, and they have four children.




Note to Reader: This guest blog post is the first in an ongoing series that profiles specific humanities projects and explores their contributions to the lives of individuals and communities. The series brings together voices from across the humanities community, featuring humanistic work and its impact from the standpoint of scholars and students, K-12 educators, public humanities professionals, and participants in humanities programs. For more information on submitting a guest post, click here

In early 2011, I received a call from Wil Meya, the director of The Language Conservancy in Bloomington, Indiana.  He had an idea for a documentary film and wanted to know if I had any interest in the helping to make the film a reality.  I get a lot of calls like this and I was ready to say no; I know how long and hard the climb is to the mountaintop of full funding, production, and eventual broadcast.  But there was something intriguing about the idea and, at the same time, something very familiar.
Wil’s idea was this – a documentary about the imminent peril to the Lakota language, the culture shaped by that language, and the history that created that peril.  The Language Conservancy and its sister organization, The Lakota Language Consortium, had been working to save the Lakota language for eleven years.  Conventional teaching methods had failed miserably; after decades of tribal and government support, exactly zero children were coming out of public schools speaking Lakota.  The danger to the language was (and is) imminent because the average age of native speakers is sixty-five.  When they pass away, their grandchildren will not be Lakota speakers unless the community figures out right now how to teach the language effectively. 
What intrigued me about the film, besides the well-known international statistic that there are approximately 6000 languages in the world and one dies every three months (some say every two weeks!), was that I had produced a very similar film not long before.  In the mid-2000s the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts sponsored “Through Deaf Eyes,” a co-production with WETA, Washington DC in Association with Gallaudet University, about the history of deaf life in America.  The central conflict in the film was the threat to American Sign Language from technical advances and cultural assimilation.  In many ways, these same forces also threaten the survival of the Lakota language.