The Federation of State Humanities Councils and the National Humanities Alliance host the National Humanities Conference each November. This annual conference brings together representatives from colleges, universities, state humanities councils, cultural institutions, and other community-based organizations to explore approaches to deepening the public’s engagement with the humanities.
In 2021, the National Humanities Conference is scheduled to take place in Detroit, Michigan, and will be hosted by Michigan Humanities. Of course, we are paying close attention to the CDC and WHO recommendations regarding COVID-19 and will adjust as necessary to ensure the health and well-being of attendees.
National Humanities Conference, Detroit 2021
The 2021 National Humanities Conference, to be held in Detroit, offers an occasion for thinking about borders and how the humanities can help us understand how they are constructed, the challenges they pose, and ultimately explore ways they can be crossed.
In 1701, French explorers encountered the Three Fires People: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi. They also encountered their neighbors the Seneca, Delaware, Shawnee, and Wyandot nations. The French claimed it, renamed it “Detroit,” and constructed Fort Detroit, which was a physical border and a military installation. In the 19th century, indigenous peoples negotiated new borders with the U.S. government, but European immigrants trespassed these boundaries as they repopulated the peninsula. Conversely, American slaves escaping bondage sought refuge in the “Free State,” while many crossed the Detroit River, the border between the United States and Canada, and the gateway to freedom.
Detroit, the most populous city in Michigan, is known universally as “The Motor City” and the birthplace of Motown Records. The complex 20th-century history of Detroit, and the interactions and conflicts between its citizens, can also be understood through borders constructed to separate and to contain them. As in much of the US, racial discrimination in hiring and promotion practices and restrictive covenants in real estate contracts not only shut out African Americans in Detroit from leadership positions in business and government but also from building wealth. Social and demographic borders were enforced and policed, which resulted in racial tension and violent conflicts. At the same time, a labor movement created a burgeoning middle class, elevating living conditions and providing unprecedented access to higher education for all Detroiters.
Today, Detroit’s population is predominantly African American (nearly 80%) with a significant Latinx community (8%), and there is a current emigration of white populations moving to the city that has increased the white population to about 10%. A diverse metropolitan population in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties of more than 4,000,000 also houses an estimated Middle Eastern population of 300,000, one of the largest in the country.
This national conference in Detroit will contemplate the theme of borders, and how Detroit—a city recuperating from economic devastation—can consider the social, cultural, and economic divisions that contributed to the city’s demise and its controversial recovery. At the same time, we will consider how the city’s diversity deconstructed borders and engaged democratic strategies that created a unique identity and a rich, complex heritage. Understanding, how borders restrict Detroiters and how Detroiters bridge and engage them is essential to realizing an inclusive, dynamic future.
About the Federation of State Humanities Councils
Founded in 1977, the Federation of State Humanities Councils is the national member association of the U.S. state and jurisdictional humanities councils. The Federation’s purpose is to provide leadership, advocacy, and information to help members advance programs that engage millions of citizens across diverse populations in community and civic life.
About the Councils
The state humanities councils are independent nonprofit organizations supporting and creating grassroots humanities programs and community-based activities. Humanities councils were established by Congress in the early 1970s and receive an annual congressional appropriation through the National Endowment for the Humanities, which most councils supplement with state and private funding.
About the National Humanities Alliance
The National Humanities Alliance (NHA) is a nationwide coalition of organizations advocating for the humanities on campuses, in communities, and on Capitol Hill. Founded in 1981, NHA is supported by over 200 member organizations, including: colleges, universities, libraries, museums, cultural organizations, state humanities councils, and scholarly, professional, and higher education associations. It is the only organization that brings together the U.S. humanities community as a whole.