The Walter Anderson Museum of Art (WAMA) in Ocean Springs, Mississippi preserves the legacy of Walter Anderson—a prolific artist who spent the majority of his career on the Mississippi Gulf Coast documenting the local culture and landscape through his artwork. WAMA uses Anderson’s artwork as a catalyst for public programming and education to explore human connections with the natural world. Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, WAMA leveraged an NEH CARES grant to develop Southern Art/Wider World, which included live digital lectures that brought together scholars, community leaders, and the public to explore Mississippi’s diverse cultural and natural landscapes. Through our NEH for All initiative, we partnered with WAMA to document the impact of these lectures. Survey results from the lecture series demonstrate how WAMA provided space for cultural exploration amidst physical distancing measures.
In December, NHA worked with the Alaska Humanities Forum (AHF) to host a virtual event with Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office. In addition to thanking Senator Murkowski for her ongoing support of the humanities, we aimed to showcase the long-term impact of NEH and AHF funding on Alaska’s cultural institutions and consider how the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to affect them.
Over the past 18 months, NHA has worked with 14 project directors of NEH-funded summer seminars, institutes, and landmarks workshops. These residential, thematic professional development programs help K-12 educators access engaging and up-to-date humanities scholarship and immerse them in the histories and cultures of American regions. Together, we have surveyed participants in these programs, documenting their impact on teachers’ classroom practice. In addition to pre- and post-program surveys, we followed up with teachers a year later, asking about how they had incorporated their work in the programs into their praxis.
By Emily McDonald and Younger Oliver
Advocacy on behalf of our cultural institutions is as crucial now as ever. The COVID-19 crisis has cast a shadow of deep uncertainty on all areas of American life, and how far these social and economic impacts may reach is still very much unknown. Over the past six months, we have been working to better understand the challenges humanities organizations are facing and how they are serving their communities in the face of crisis. We’ve found our peers are not only providing informative programming, but also extending their missions to serve their communities in creative ways. To fully capture the impact of this work, we have been partnering with humanities organizations across the country, leveraging the data collection resources we’ve developed at NHA, to highlight how humanities organizations serve as anchors in their communities during times of crisis.
We recently hosted a two-part webinar entitled Making the Case for Studying the Humanities in a Time of Crisis. For more than a year now, we’ve been researching the field of undergraduate humanities recruitment, identifying compelling initiatives, effective strategies, and leaders in the field. We gathered six of those leaders—three deans followed by three humanities center directors—to discuss how the pandemic, severely strained budgets, and the national reckoning with racial injustice are changing the context in which they work to attract more students to the humanities.
On Wednesday, June 24, the National Humanities Alliance hosted a virtual briefing aimed at educating our members and congressional staffers on how humanities organizations are adapting to serve their communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I was joined in conversation by Vivé Griffith, director of outreach and engagement for The Clemente Course in the Humanities, and Katie Ringsmuth, project director and lead historian of the NN Cannery History Project. For both organizations, the difficulties of the past few months have emphasized what they already knew to be true: that the humanities have a significant role to play in bolstering community life and lending historical perspective. Though cultural organizations throughout the United States are struggling with the pandemic’s economic impact, they have a vital role in supporting us through the months to come.
Our recent Humanities Recruitment Survey (HRS) revealed a consensus among faculty and administrators across institution types that “student concerns about job prospects” is the most influential challenge to attracting undergraduates to the humanities. Over the past year, we’ve been updating the career outcomes data in our Study the Humanities toolkit and collecting effective strategies for articulating career pathways for humanities students. Anticipating that student anxieties will weigh even heavier amidst the economic fallout of the pandemic, we’ve been reaching out to leaders in this field to understand how they are adapting. Kirstin Wilcox, founding director of the University of Illinois’ Humanities Professional Resource Center (HPRC), offered her take.