Every March, we organize Humanities Advocacy Day to ensure that Members of Congress hear from their constituents about the value of federal funding for the humanities. For first time advocates, walking through the marble halls of the Rayburn House Office Building, the Hill’s largest congressional office building, can be intimidating. And meeting with your Member of Congress to ask them for millions of dollars for the National Endowment for the Humanities can be even more so.
The Mastheads, a public humanities organization in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, was founded in 2016 with a goal of connecting Pittsfield residents to the literary heritage of the region, cultivating pride in place, and supporting the production of new creative work. This mission grew out of the challenges Pittsfield has faced since General Electric, the major employer, left the region. To bring together diverse groups to celebrate Pittsfield as a site of cultural and artistic production, the organization has collaborated with a variety of community organizations—from the library to the local farmers market, to groups looking to support and improve their local neighborhoods—since its inception.
How can we build support for publicly engaged humanities work at our universities and colleges?
Before kicking off the 2019 National Humanities Conference in Honolulu, we hosted a pre-conference workshop to address this question with over 100 humanities scholars, administrators, and association leaders.
On December 11, the National Humanities Alliance partnered with Jefferson Community College (JCC) to highlight how the NEH’s Dialogues on the Experience of War programs serve veterans. The showcase-style briefing included a discussion with leaders of and participants in JCC’s 2018 program. Representatives Chellie Pingree, David Price, Elise Stefanik, and Steve Stivers served as honorary co-hosts of the event.
Earlier this week, Congress released its spending deal for FY 2020, which included a $7.25 million increase for the NEH, the largest increase we have seen in a decade. If enacted, which it is expected to be, this would bring the agency’s budget to $162.25 million.
Partnership drives many of the publicly engaged humanities initiatives collected in NHA’s Humanities for All database. These initiatives drawn from across the country bring scholars and students together with a wide variety of partners, including libraries, K–12 schools, community organizations and centers, and individual community members. In all cases, they draw on shared knowledge and resources to advance particular academic and public objectives. They are able to do more—and better—by working together.
NHA is currently working with 14 NEH-funded summer professional development programs for teachers to document their impact. Though our final follow-up survey is still several months away, pre- and post-program surveys shed light on what drew educators to the workshops and what they found most valuable while there. The responses have been enlightening and have helped us understand how NEH-funded programs are fulfilling teachers’ needs and filling gaps in the curricula.
The Public Speaking Initiative (PSI) at the University of California, Santa Barbara illustrates how faculty can join together to magnify the value of the humanities for developing crucial skills. PSI unites and strengthens efforts across various departments—including Communication, English, Feminist Studies, French and Italian, History, Spanish and Portuguese, Theater, and Writing—to teach undergraduates public speaking skills.
Over the past two years, we have partnered with Common Heritage programs across the country to profile their mission–from preserving Franco-American veteran stories in Maine, to digitizing Tahoe’s history, natural beauty, and culture in Nevada, to collecting stories of the Hmong population in North Carolina. These programs, supported by the NEH, are based around public digitization events that preserve family and local history. In reporting our initial survey efforts to document the impact of select Common Heritage programs, we’ve shown how these programs surface artifacts of ethnic and migration histories that would otherwise be lost. As we continue our survey efforts, we’ve added to these impacts and found more robust evidence of how these programs are demystifying cultural heritage preservation by equipping communities with the tools, resources, and a sense of urgency to preserve their familial and community heritage.