From the News column of the December 2008 issue of Perspectives on History

Changes in the Wings for the Humanities

AHA Staff, December 2008

As a new administration prepares to take office, and as new members of Congress get ready to arrive in Washington, D.C., historians, among others, will be anticipating changes in the federal government’s policies toward the humanities. Many of the most important changes that could be expected are described by Lee White in his essay, “Historic Election’s Impact on History.” Some changes that are equally significant are already happening. The chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bruce Cole, who ably led the endowment for many years, will, as Lee White reports, lay down his office when his term expires in January 2009, to take up a new position as the president and CEO of the American Revolution Center (see article for details). The new president will thus have an opportunity to name another scholar to be the head of this key humanities agency.

To guide him through the process of selecting new chairs for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts (whose current chair, the poet Dana Gioia, also decided to lay down his office in January 2009) and helping them through the Senate confirmation process, the president-elect will have at hand, the distinguished folk-lore scholar, Bill Ivey, who had served as chair of the NEA from 1998 to 2001. Ivey, director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, and past president of the Folklore Society, joined the president-elect’s transition team with particular responsibility for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Humanities Advocacy Day Offers Unique Opportunities

Soon after the new administration takes office and the new Congress convenes, historians and other members of the humanities community will have a unique opportunity both to learn about the intricacies of the policymaking process and to interact with national leaders and other key policymakers when the National Humanities Alliance convenes its annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Held in connection with the annual Humanities Advocacy Day, the conference and the related events (spread over three days, from Monday, March 9 through Wednesday, March 11, 2009) will afford an unparalleled opportunity to all interested in humanities policies to “learn about the current state of federal funding and latest policy issues, and make sure that their voices are heard in support of the humanities.”

On March 9, a preconference session, sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, will be devoted to a panel discussion of the state of the humanities, held 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Jack Moore Auditorium of George Washington University. Members of the panel will include Edward Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, Francis Oakley, president emeritus of Williams College, Don Randel, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and David Souter, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The conference itself, on March 10, will be held in the third floor conference rooms of the Marvin Center of the university. The keynote luncheon speech will be delivered by Steven Knapp, the president of George Washington University.

The next day, March 11, Humanities Advocacy Day, will be given over mainly to visits with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill and to the subsequent “debriefing.” Details about Humanities Advocacy Day, the conference, and the procedures for the required registration (to be completed by February 4, 2009) are available at www.nhalliance.org.