President, Georgia Humanities Council
“I can’t think of any other disciple that prepares someone as well as history does for tackling almost any policy-related job. History provides a broad fame of reference for discerning the whole story. A society with too much information needs historians to put the pieces together. This is an invaluable skill."
From his days in graduate school, Jamil Zainaldin had a strong attraction to both history and law. He decided on history because of the appeal of the broad historical questions and the framework that they provided for exploring all aspects of human experience. After completing a Ph.D. in history at the University of Chicago, Zainaldin taught for four years, first at Northwestern University and then Case Western Reserve University. He attributes a National Endowment for the Humanities faculty seminar on aging as the catalyst for pointing his career in a new direction. History and the law could be combined, he realized, by pursuing a position in public policy.
He headed for Washington and landed a position on a legislative task force on social security, women, and aging. A historical framework centered his thinking about how policy evolves. Being an idealist, Zainaldin also found satisfaction in using his historical perspective and writing skills to assist in preparing studies that would shape legislation.
Following a year with a policy think tank, Zainaldin accepted the position of deputy director of the American Historical Association. He understood his work at the AHA as an extension of his interest in public policy, for he was working to increase the profession’s involvement with secondary schools and with federal policy that affects historical research.
After four years at the AHA, it seemed a natural progression to move to the Federation of State Humanities Councils, where he stimulated the state councils to think about who they were and what they could contribute to the public. Additionally, he worked to build a greater appreciation in higher education for the role of scholars in public humanities programs. After eleven years in Washington dealing with advocacy and administrative issues, Zainaldin went in 1997 to the head the Georgia Humanities Council, where he has the opportunity to work directly on projects that bring humanities, and especially history, to the people of Georgia.