Last month during the Virtual National Humanities Conference, we had the opportunity to hear from Johnetta Cole, this year’s Capps Lecturer, in conversation with Smithsonian secretary Lonnie Bunch. Bunch noted how he is often asked whether he has a “political agenda.” The assumption behind this question, he suggested, was that as a historian and museum professional he might be partisan or biased due to his commitment to racial justice. He takes inspiration from Cole who throughout her long career in museums and higher education has fought for racial justice, when he answers swiftly “yes: to make the country better. What’s wrong with that?”
In April 2020, the Humanities for All team partnered with the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) to conduct focus groups with students who had participated in publicly engaged projects funded by the CIC’s Humanities Research for the Public Good (HRPG) grants. We held five focus groups with 20 students from 15 institutions who generously shared their thoughts on what they learned and the skills they gained through publicly engaged humanities work. We present a summary of the focus group responses here, while individual posts written by four focus group participants are on the Humanities for All blog:
During National Arts and Humanities Month, Humanities for All has been exploring how higher ed-based humanists are using the tools of public humanities and partnership to promote social and racial justice. In recent decades, many American colleges and universities have begun uncovering their historic support and involvement with the institution of slavery (and the ongoing denial of these linkages) as a way of mending a broken sense of trust between students, colleges, and the surrounding community.
Each October, we celebrate National Arts and Humanities Month by calling attention to the many ways humanities research, teaching, and programs serve students and communities across the country.
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.
This summer, we launched the Humanities for All blog to showcase publicly engaged humanities initiatives in the words of the faculty, staff, students, and community partners directly involved in the projects. Our September 8 post by Lillian Wilson focuses on the Wayne State Humanities Clinic, an innovative graduate internship program at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Twenty-three interns from the humanities and humanistic social sciences were matched with 25 non-profits and businesses that serve Detroit communities. In some cases, an interdisciplinary group or pair of interns worked with a single community partner.
In August of 2019, NHA and Routledge, Taylor & Francis launched Publishing and the Publicly Engaged Humanities, a free-access collection of humanities articles and book chapters that feature public engagement. The collection, drawn from across the Taylor & Francis books and journals programs, illustrates a range of ways that publicly engaged scholarship can lead to—and enhance—publication. The initial collection included 10 publications, which we augmented twice to include new articles and book chapters.
In building and promoting Humanities for All, we've had a unique opportunity to reflect on public engagement. We have learned from all who are involved in publicly engaged humanities work, and shared their voices in profiles of their work and in essays that consider trends in the field. Expanding upon this work, we are delighted to announce the launch of the Humanities for All blog, which invites others to reflect in their own words on their work and promising models and trends in the field.
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.