Historian: “The challenges this country faces are a direct result of abandoning the humanities”

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Over at the Washington Post, Queens College, CUNY historian Katherine Pickering Antonova argues that the United States “has forgotten the value of the humanities at the moment it needs them most.”

Here is a taste:

Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted, “In school, rarely do we learn how data become facts, how facts become knowledge, and how knowledge becomes wisdom.” A librarian replied, “Hi Neil, That’s literally what we teach. Thanks for the shoutout! Sincerely, The Humanities.”

When a champion of critical thinking like Tyson is unclear on the very purpose of the humanities, it’s fair to say higher education is facing a public relations crisis, a reality also highlighted by the recent Pew Research Center poll showing that a majority of Republicans believe higher education has a “negative effect” on the country.

This is a serious crisis. Universities face untenable budgets and a dire faculty job market at the same time the public is questioning the value of a college education in light of rising tuition and student loan burdens. But the transformation in public attitudes toward universities is not based on a concrete loss of value: Higher education continues to correlate with improved employability and incomes. U.S. universities continue — for the time being — to maintain a global competitive edge.

Read the entire piece here.

Neem: “The STEM rubric undermines the unity between the humanities and sciences.”

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Kentucky governor Matt Bevin

Back in June, we published a post on Kentucky governor Matt Bevin‘s endorsement of a bill allowing the Bible to be taught in the state’s public schools.  I later published a shorter version of this post at Religion News Service.

Governor Bevin is back in the news after his said that the state’s public universities should cut programs that are not “helping to produce” a  “21st century educated workforce.”  Bevin urged university administrators in his state to “find entire parts of your campus…that don’t need to be there.”  He singled out “Interpretive Dance.”  Back in January, he singled out “French Literature.”  Bevin wants to put money and energy into growing engineering and other STEM programs at Kentucky universities. Ironically, according to Inside Higher Ed‘s coverage of Bevin’s remarks, the governor has an East Asian studies degree from Washington and Lee University.

Sadly, the interim president of the University of Louisville, Dr. Greg Postel, seems to agree with the governor. Postel told the Lexington Herald-Leader that his university’s engineering program is growing, making Bevin’s ideas for funding more STEM initiatives a “natural fit” at Louisville.  “Universities have to be aware of where the jobs are,” he told the Herald-Leader, “and that has to advise us as to which programs we choose to grow and put our resources in.”  If I was a humanities or liberal arts faculty member at Louisville I would be up in arms right now.  Postel has no clue about two things:  1) college education is more than job training and 2) liberal arts majors contribute to the economy and do a variety of jobs.

Check out Inside Higher Ed‘s coverage here.  It includes several faculty members who have pushed back.

Western Washington University historian Johann Neem is not mentioned in the Inside Higher Ed article, but back in February he responded to Bevin’s earlier comments on STEM. Neem believes that “science” should not be part of the STEM equation.  As he puts it, “The STEM rubric undermines the unity between the humanities and sciences.”

Here is a taste of his piece at the blog of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education:

In theory, there are two major faculties on American college campuses, those who teach in the liberal arts and sciences, and those who offer professional education in such fields as business, education, engineering, social work, and various health fields. The two types of faculties are not necessarily in opposition, but they have different missions because they are oriented toward different goals.

To faculty in the arts and sciences, undergraduate education is liberal in nature​ — it is about gaining a broad knowledge ​about how the human and natural worlds work, because doing so can inspire students and because it serves a broader public good to have well-educated adults. Ideally, and often, there is no specific vocational outcome to these majors. In fact, to ask a history, English, biology, or geology major, “​What are you going to do with that?” ought to be irrelevant since these are academic disciplines designed for academic purposes. When majors were first established, their goal was not job training but to offer intellectual depth ​and balance or, better put, to enhance a general education. Thus, majors in the arts and sciences exist for their educational purposes with no real or necessary relation to market needs.

Professional faculty, on the other hand, train people for specific jobs. Their success is measured by whether their students gain the knowledge and skills necessary for employment in specific fields. Students who major in engineering, for example, are right to ask their programs, “​What can I do with that?” Moreover, students who choose to major in these fields may not receive the same kind of liberal education as those in the arts and sciences. Instead, they seek a direct line to employment. These fields, in other words, are tied closely to market needs.

The rhetoric of “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) seeks to professionalize science faculty by reorienting their core community of identity. The sciences are not job training but part of liberal education. Math is a humanistic pursuit. Ideally, faculty and students in the sciences and math have different goals, perspectives, and aspirations than those in engineering and technology-related fields. Traditionally, science and math faculty have identified themselves with the broader purposes of the liberal arts, of which they are a part.

The more we use the term STEM​ — in praise, condemnation, or simply as a descriptor​ — the more we divide the arts and sciences faculty from each other. The arts and sciences exist as the educational core of the undergraduate collegiate curriculum. They are tied together conceptually. There is in fact no difference, from the ​perspective of liberal education, in choosing to major in philosophy or chemistry. Faculty in both disciplines, in all the arts and sciences, believe in the value of intellectual pursuit, in fostering curiosity about the world, and in graduating students who have breadth and depth. Yet, increasingly on campuses across the United States, colleges of arts and sciences are dividing into two units, the humanities and social sciences in one, and the sciences and math in another.

Neem concludes:

The STEM rubric undermines the unity between the humanities and sciences. For many policymakers, this is no doubt desirable. Yet, if faculty in the sciences and mathematics are not careful about how they identify themselves, they will be party to the erosion of the ideal of liberal learning, of which they remain an essential part. If faculty in the humanities and social sciences are not careful, they will find themselves marginalized as the sciences abandon liberal education to join forces with market-driven technology and engineering programs. If Americans are not careful, we will soon find that we have fundamentally changed the purposes and goals of collegiate education.

Read Neem’s entire piece here.

Humanities in a “Tech World”

59c16-i_love_humanities_tshirt-p235524076469557183trlf_400Mike Walden is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Extension Economist at North Carolina State University.  In this piece he explains why the humanities are needed in a “tech world.”

Here is a taste:

 

There’s another reason for the relevance of humanities in our current world. Some thinkers say the application of the next level of technology to human use will require a cultural change, and developers of new technology will have to understand this cultural shift in order to be successful.

Robots and driverless vehicles are good examples. Although it’s fun to think of these tools in abstract, when they become a reality, how will we react? Robots and driverless vehicles mean a shift in control and power from humans to machines that we have never experienced before. How will we react? Will robots and driverless vehicles be commercial successes or financial flops because people couldn’t adapt to them?

Obviously developers and manufacturers want to know, and who better than to guide them than individuals who have studied human culture – that is, those who have studied the humanities.

There have already been studies indicating a new found appreciation of humanities experts in today’s high-tech economy. Many companies have discovered humanities majors make excellent managers and decision-makers.

So in the race between the STEMS and the HUMIES (my short-cut for the humanities), it may be too early for us to decide who will come out on top!

Read the entire piece here.

Humanities: Liberal and Conservative

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Check out Damon Linker’s piece at The Week: “The real reason there are so few conservatives on campus.” First, it is worth mentioning that Linker thinks the claims about the small numbers of conservatives on university campuses are overblown.  There are plenty of conservatives in professional schools, business schools, and even in the social sciences.

When people talk about the lack of conservatives on campus they are normally talking about the humanities: English, literature, philosophy, history, cultural studies, etc…

I teach at Christian college and I can think of less than a handful of humanities faculty who would identity as “conservative.”  (Though somewhat unrelated, I can only think of a handful of humanities faculty who would call themselves “evangelical.” If you read this blog, you know that I remain one of them.  When you put the self-identified “conservatives” together with the self-identified “evangelicals,” the number shrinks to maybe two or three faculty members at the most.  But I digress).

Linker believes that there are so few conservatives in the humanities because universities, especially larger research universities, tend to value progress.  Research agendas are usually about discovering something new about the world.  Conservatives do not always think about the humanities in this way.

I will let Linker explain.  Here is a taste:

Professors are trained as graduate students to become scholars — and scholarship in our time is defined as an effort to make progress in knowledge. The meaning of progress in the hard sciences is fairly obvious. But what does it mean to make progress in our knowledge of, say, English literature? One possibility is to find obscure, previously neglected authors and make a case for their importance. (This could be described as making progress in knowledge by way of expanding the canon.)

Another possibility is to bring new questions to bear on old, classic texts. But where will those new questions come from if not the concerns of the present? This is how professors end up publishing reams of studies (and teaching gobs of courses) on such topics as “Class in Shakespeare,” “Race in Shakespeare,” “Gender in Shakespeare,” “Transgender in Shakespeare,” “Intersectionality in Shakespeare,” and so forth. To tease out those themes in texts that have been read, studied, and debated for centuries certainly constitutes progress in knowledge, since those who publish the research have said something genuinely new about something old and familiar.

One reason why conservative scholars tend not to conduct this kind of research is that they’re not especially interested in questions of class, race, gender, and related issues. But that’s not because they’d prefer to achieve progress in knowledge by bringing a different, more politically conservative set of questions to bear on classic texts. (“Supply-Side Economics in Shakespeare”? “Hawkish Foreign Policy in Shakespeare”?) Rather, conservatives are usually drawn to the study of the humanities with a very different goal in mind — nothing less than pursuit of the timeless human wisdom they believe can be found in the great books of the past. What kind of research and teaching does this motivation produce? Studies of, and classes in, such topics as “Love in Shakespeare,” “Friendship in Shakespeare,” “Justice in Shakespeare,” “Death in Shakespeare,” and “God in Shakespeare.”

These are classical subjects that centuries of people have written and thought about while reading the great playwright and poet. What’s new to say about them? Probably nothing. Instead, reflecting on such themes entails a rediscovery of knowledge that past readers may have possessed but that must be reacquired by every reader, by every student, anew.

By definition, that’s not “progress in knowledge,” since it denies that a contemporary scholar necessarily knows more on the subject than a reader from a previous century. It presumes that the only form of “progress” is each individual’s advancement in coming to understand the perennial problems and puzzles of the human condition, and it looks to great writers of the past for help in acquiring that understanding.

Read the entire piece here. I think Linker is on to something.

National Endowment for the Humanities Announces New Grants

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Let’s hope that there will be more grants to come.

Here are a few of the recent NEH grants that may be of interest to readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

University of California, Los Angeles Outright: $143,136
[Institutes for School Teachers]
Project Director: Carol Bakhos
Project Title: Religious Landscapes of Los Angeles

Telfair Museum of Art Outright: $150,000
[Historic Places: Implementation] Match: $100,000
Project Director: Shannon Browning-Mullis
Project Title: The Owens-Thomas House: Interpreting the Dynamics of Urban Slavery in the South

Trustees of Indiana University, Indianapolis Outright: $108,800
[Seminars for School Teachers]
Project Director: Edward Curtis
Project Title: Muslim American History and Life

Richard Bell Outright: $50,400
[Public Scholar Program]
University of Maryland, College Park
Project Title: Kidnapping and the Slave Trade in Post-Revolutionary America

St. Mary’s College of Maryland Outright: $240,000
[Collaborative Research]
Project Director: Julia King
Project Title: Indigenous Borderlands of the Chesapeake: The Lower Rappahannock
Valley Landscape, 200–1850 CE

Massachusetts Historical Society Outright: $350,000
[Scholarly Editions and Translations] Match: $200,000
Project Director: Sara Martin
Project Title: Adams Papers Editorial Project

Megan Nelson Outright: $50,400
[Public Scholar Program]
Project Title: How the West was Won—and Lost—during the American Civil War

University of Massachusetts, Lowell Outright: $166,748
[Institutes for School Teachers]
Project Director: Sheila Kirschbaum
Project Title: Social Movements and Reform in Industrializing America: The Lowell
Experience

Delta State University Outright: $189,387
[Institutes for School Teachers]
Project Director: Rolando Herts
Project Title: The Most Southern Place on Earth: Music, History, and Culture of the
Mississippi Delta

Cornell University Outright: $324,581
[Digital Humanities Advancement Grants] Match: $50,000
Project Director: Edward Baptist; William Block (co-project director)
Project Title: Freedom on the Move: Advancing a Crowdsourced, Comprehensive
Database of North American Runaway Slave Advertisements

CUNY Research Foundation, Graduate School and University Center
Outright: $165,118
[Institutes for College and University Teachers]
Project Director: Donna Thompson Ray
Project Title: The Visual Culture of the American Civil War and its Aftermath

Firelight Media, Inc. Outright: $800,000
[Media Projects Production]
Project Director: Stanley Nelson
Project Title: The Slave Trade: Creating a New World

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Outright: $350,000
[Community Conversations]
Project Director: Susan Saidenberg
Project Title: Revisiting the Founding Era

Interfaith Center of New York Outright: $170,550
[Institutes for School Teachers]
Project Director: Henry Goldschmidt
Project Title: Religious Worlds of New York: Teaching the Everyday Life of American
Religious Diversity

University of South Carolina, Columbia Outright: $300,000
[Scholarly Editions and Translations] Match: $40,000
Project Director: Constance Schulz
Project Title: The Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen of South Carolina, A Digital
Documentary Edition: Phase 3

University of South Carolina, Columbia Outright: $199,803
[Institutes for School Teachers]
Project Director: Joseph Morris
Project Title: America’s Reconstruction: The Untold Story

Brookhaven College Outright: $120,505
[Institutes for College and University Teachers]
Project Director: Paul Benson
Project Title: Slavery and the Constitution

University of Virginia Outright: $320,000
[Scholarly Editions and Translations] Match: $100,000
Project Director: William Ferraro
Project Title: Papers of George Washington

University of Virginia Outright: $266,000
[Scholarly Editions and Translations] Match: $75,000
Project Director: John Stagg
Project Title: The Papers of James Madison

University of Virginia Outright: $157,956
[Institutes for School Teachers]
Project Director: Lisa Reilly
Project Title: Thomas Jefferson: The Public and Private Worlds of Monticello and the
University of Virginia

University of Mary Washington Outright: $300,000
[Scholarly Editions and Translations]
Project Director: Daniel Preston
Project Title: The Papers of James Monroe

Carthage College Outright: $124,749
[Institutes for College and University Teachers]
Project Director: Stephanie Mitchell
Project Title: Women’s Suffrage in the Americas

Congratulations to all.

Postdoctoral Fellow in “Humility & Conviction in Public Life” at UCONN Humanities Institute

 

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First, let me say how impressed I am that the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute is devoting itself to these kinds of questions.  Bravo!

Second, I hope you might consider applying.  I am told by the powers-that-be at UCONN that it is not too late.

Job Title: Postdoctoral Fellow, Humanities Institute
Job ID: 2017625
Location: Storrs Campus
Full/Part Time: Full-Time
Regular/Temporary: Temporary

Job Posting

The University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, is accepting applications for a postdoctoral researcher with an anticipated start date of August 23, 2017. The researcher will work under the auspices of Humility & Conviction in Public Life (HCPL), an applied research project generously funded by the John Templeton Foundation aimed at understanding and revitalizing meaningful public discourse over such topics as morality, politics, science and religion. The initial appointment is for one year, with the possibility of renewal for a second year. For more information on the project, please see its website.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS

Completed requirements for a Ph.D. (or foreign equivalent) in a humanities field (broadly construed) by start date of employment; evidence of a strong research/publication trajectory; and active research and public engagement interests integrating well with the stated aims and interests of the HCPL project.

PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS

Evidence of excellence in research; a research profile that indicates strong interest in applied research relevant to public discourse, interest in or knowledge of research on intellectual or epistemic humility, public deliberation and dialogue; and the ability to contribute through research, teaching, and/or public engagement to the diversity and excellence of project and Institute missions.

APPOINTMENT TERMS

This is an 11 month, annually renewable position. The successful candidate’s primary academic appointment will be in the Humanities Institute on the Storrs campus.

TO APPLY

Select “Apply Now” to be redirected to Academic Jobs Online to complete your application. Please submit the following materials: 1) cover letter with description of how your research and qualifications mesh with the HCPL project, 2) CV, and 3) a sample of scholarly writing. Additionally, please follow the instructions in Academic Jobs Online to direct three reference writers to submit letters of reference on your behalf. 

Evaluation of applications will begin immediately, and continue until the position is filled. Preference will be given to applications received by August 1, 2017. Employment of the successful candidate is contingent upon the successful completion of a pre- employment background check. (Search # 2017625). 

Inquiries may be sent to Jo-Ann Waide at: uchi@uconn.edu .

All employees are subject to adherence to the State Code of Ethics which may be found at http://www.ct.gov/ethics/site/default.asp.

The University of Connecticut is committed to building and supporting a multicultural and diverse community of students, faculty and staff. The diversity of students, faculty and staff continues to increase, as does the number of honors students, valedictorians and salutatorians who consistently make UConn their top choice. More than 100 research centers and institutes serve the University’s teaching, research, diversity, and outreach missions, leading to UConn’s ranking as one of the nation’s top research universities. UConn’s faculty and staff are the critical link to fostering and expanding our vibrant, multicultural and diverse University community. As an Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity employer, UConn encourages applications from women, veterans, people with disabilities and members of traditionally underrepresented populations.

 

“Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World”

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If you haven’t heard it yet, check out Episode 21 of the Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  We talk with Scott Hartley, a venture capitalist and author of The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World.

Thanks to Hartley’s twitter feed I just found this review of The Fuzzy and the Techie at the website of The Philippine Star.  Here is a taste of Bong Osorio’s piece:

While the parents of college-age children largely prefer degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the technical trades — collectively called STEM — there’s new evidence to suggest that value can still be found in the good old Liberal Arts degree. Hooray for literature, history, humanities and sociology subjects.

Alyse Lorber of Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) media wrote, “The advent of ‘Big Data’ has led businesses into what seems like a new age of reason. We have the technology now to quantify our world in endless rational ways. We see more, we know more and we have the algorithms to reach people with more precision than ever before. Choose the channels; decide on the message and press send. Relevance is guaranteed; success will surely follow. There’s just one flaw in this analysis: human nature.”

Real people don’t behave as rationally or as predictably. We are familial and emotional and the reasons behind the choices we make aren’t so easily measured.

Read the entire review here.

A Leading Silicon Valley Engineer: “I now wish that I had strived for a proper liberal arts education.”

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Borrowing from the late humanist David Foster Wallace, Tracy Chou wants to know what water is.  Chou is an entrepreneur and software engineer who has worked at Pinterest and Quora.  Knowing what she knows now,  she wishes she had a liberal arts education.

Here is a taste of her piece at Quartz:

At Quora, and later at Pinterest, I also worked on the algorithms powering their respective homefeeds: the streams of content presented to users upon initial login, the default views we pushed to users. It seems simple enough to want to show users “good” content when they open up an app. But what makes for good content? Is the goal to help users to discover new ideas and expand their intellectual and creative horizons? To show them exactly the sort of content that they know they already like? Or, most easily measurable, to show them the content they’re most likely to click on and share, and that will make them spend the most time on the service?

Ruefully—and with some embarrassment at my younger self’s condescending attitude toward the humanities—I now wish that I had strived for a proper liberal arts education. That I’d learned how to think critically about the world we live in and how to engage with it. That I’d absorbed lessons about how to identify and interrogate privilege, power structures, structural inequality, and injustice. That I’d had opportunities to debate my peers and develop informed opinions on philosophy and morality. And even more than all of that, I wish I’d even realized that these were worthwhile thoughts to fill my mind with—that all of my engineering work would be contextualized by such subjects.

It worries me that so many of the builders of technology today are people like me; people haven’t spent anywhere near enough time thinking about these larger questions of what it is that we are building, and what the implications are for the world.

But it is never too late to be curious. Each of us can choose to learn, to read, to talk to people, to travel, and to engage intellectually and ethically. I hope that we all do so—so that we can come to acknowledge the full complexity and wonder of the world we live in, and be thoughtful in designing the future of it.

Read the entire piece here.

Chou’s piece reminds me of our interview with Scott Hartley, author of The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts will Rule the Digital Worldin Episode 21 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  (Not familiar with The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast?  Check it out and then consider supporting our work at Patreon. Thanks. We need your support to get where we want to go with this project).

Master Local Historians

Tennesse State Archives

This looks like a great program.

Humanities Tennessee has awarded the American Association of State and Local History a grant to pilot Master Local Historians (MLS).

Here is the press release and description of the program:

AASLH is proud to announce that we have been awarded a grant from Humanities Tennessee to pilot our newest program, Master Local Historians.

The Master Local Historians project is a training program that highlights the relevance of historical inquiry for the general public and provides people with an opportunity to hone their historical research, writing, and interpretation skills. Participants will learn the basic tools and methods of the craft of history to better understand, and even explain, the world around them. By the end of the course, they will have a greater appreciation for the work of public history and be better able to assist history organizations in a variety of ways.

This project is funded by a grant from Humanities Tennessee, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in-kind matching support from AASLH.

History—both knowledge of the past and the practice of researching and making sense of what happened in the past—is crucially important to the wellbeing of individuals, communities, and the future of our nation. On a state-by-state, community-by-community basis, people are figuring out what history means in the context of today. AASLH continually evaluates the opportunities history organizations have to employ history’s essential role in nurturing personal identity, teaching critical skills, helping to provide vital places to live and work, stimulating economic development, fostering engaged citizens, inspiring leadership, and providing a legacy. The Master Local Historians program is one such opportunity.

In the beginning stages of this project, AASLH has pulled together a team of national and Tennessee humanities scholars and advisors to review existing materials from similar programs and map a framework for a Master Local Historian program. This includes a curriculum that focuses on the basics of the historical profession, with three of those basics being piloted by partner organizations in West, Middle, and East Tennessee, including the Morton Museum of Collierville History, the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and the East Tennessee History Center. After the completion of a successful piloting period, AASLH plans to seek funding to launch the Master Local Historians program nationally.

The institutions will host the workshops in winter 2017/2018. AASLH will evaluate the individual sessions and the success of the program as a whole and in 2018 begin to create the full Master Local Historian curriculum based on the Tennessee pilots. The program highlights the continued relevance of history, a major theme of AASLH strategic plan since 2016.

AASLH is proud to have the following people serve as Humanities Scholars on this project, including Dr. Lorraine McConaghy (Public Historian), Myers Brown (Tennessee State Library and Archives), Dr. Carroll Van West (Tennessee State Historian), Adam Alfrey (East Tennessee History Center), Dr. Larry Cebula (Public Historian), Dr. Teresa Church (Public Historian), Dr. Jay Price (Public Historian), Brooke Mundy (Collierville Museum of History), Steve Murray (Alabama Department of Archives and History), Stuart Sanders (Kentucky Historical Society), Dr. C. Brendan Martin (MTSU) and Local Historians: Betsy Millard (Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum), Carol Kammen (Tompkins County (NY) Historian), and Beverly Tyler (Three Villages Historical Society).

For more information about Master Local Historians, and other Continuing Education opportunities, contact Amber Mitchell at Mitchell@aaslh.org.

How To Fight Trump’s Cuts to the Humanities

 

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Here is a press release from the Organization of American Historians (published at History News Network);

The OAH strives to keep its members informed of issues that could affect the history profession and the humanities more broadly. As part of our effort, we periodically issue alerts to help our members take action.

On May 23, President Trump sent his proposed fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget request to Congress. As expected, it included devastating cuts to federal history and humanities funding including elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and Title VI/Fulbright-Hays international education programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

House Appropriations Committee subcommittees will be drafting their spending bills between now and the end of June. It is critical that you contact your members of Congress in support of these vital federal programs.

This year we are urging you to send your messages to Congress via email. The volume of calls congressional offices have received has grown exponentially since January and often the voice mail of staffers are full, making it difficult to leave messages.

Our colleagues at the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) have created a legislative action center that allows you to send multiple emails to Congress on NEH, NHRPC, IMLS, and education funding from a single website. Each alert includes a pre-written letter that you can personalize or send as is. The system uses your zip code to identify your House member and Senators.

If you prefer to make a phone call, members of Congress can be reached through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202)224-3121. We suggest you use the letters found at the NHA’s legislative action center as talking points. You can find your representative on the House website. Contact information for your senators can be found here.

No matter which means of communication you choose, please personalize your message as to your background or interest in history. If you are employed in the field, mention the institution where you work in your state and congressional district.

Never before have federal history and archival programs been under attack to this extent. Members of Congress are under tremendous pressure to hold the line on spending, so you must make your voices heard today!

 

Storytelling and Humanities Funding

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From Douglas Sladen, “Oriental Cairo,” 1911, Wikipedia Commons

Over at the Huffington Post, Patrick Hicks, the Writer-in-Residence at Augustana College, reminds us of the importance of story as it relates to the funding of the humanities.

Here is a taste:

As far as we know, human beings are the only creatures that tell stories. Think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. To the best of our knowledge, we’re the only form of life in the whole universe that can imagine the future and chronicle the past.

We’re the only species that understands our planet’s infinitesimally small place in the great black void of space. For all we know, perhaps the reason for our existence is to tell stories. And oh, how we love to tell stories.

This aspect of being human is so much a part of our daily lives that we rarely stop to think about it. And yet, when we come home from work, the first question we are likely to be asked is this: “How was your day?” It is invitation to tell a story. In a similar way, after a funeral, we gather in a church hall to remember the deceased and we resurrect them through words…

We are hardwired for story.

All too often, storytelling is seen as somehow frivolous and unnecessary when it comes to governmental funding. Stories, however, offer identity and moments of learning and national mythology. Of all the great scientific wonders that rise up from any given age—of all the political rulings and wars that make up the vast catalog of the human experience—what lasts are the stories that are created…

If we want our voices to echo down through the ages, we need the humanities. Not only do the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanitiesoffer vital support for literary artists today, but these institutions also invest in the future. By supporting the creation and amplification of stories, we create time machines that allow future generations to understand our era better…

By supporting the Humanities, we benefit from stories that make us learn and grow. For me, this is the magic of storytelling. Words bring strangers together, and this includes strangers who are separated by centuries. While it’s noble to invest in new highways and bridges, what really matters are the invisible pathways that draw us together as human beings. That is worth investing in.

Stories offer us identity and hope. Stories help us to remember the past and imagine new futures. Stories make us human. Stories give us meaning. To cut funding is not only a denial of the essence of our species, but it erases our voice from the future.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is I wrote about story in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

The best historians tell stories about the past–stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Most stories end with a lesson or a “moral.”  While a historian may not explicitly preach the moral of his or her story, if told in a compelling fashion, the moral will always be evident to the reader.  We use narratives to make sense of our world.  It is how we bring order to our own human experiences and the human experiences of others.  Jonathan Gottschall, in his recent The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, reminds us that the mind “yields helplessly to the suction of story.” If a quick glance at the New York Times best-seller list over the course of the last decade is any indication, the history books that have reached the largest audience are written by narrative historians.  Writers such as David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and the late Stephen Ambrose have brought the past alive to ordinary readers through their gifted prose and storytelling abilities.  They have proved that a book about the past, in the hands of a skillfull historian-writer, can be a page-turnerThis is because, as historian William Cronon writes

As storytellers we commit ourselves to the task of judging the consequences of human actions, trying to understand the choices that confronted people whose lives we narrate so as to capture the full tumult of their world.  In the dilemmas they faced we discover our own, and at the intersection of the two we locate the moral of the story.  If our goal is to tell tales that make the past meaningful, then we cannot escape struggling over the values that define what meaning is.

The NEH Answers Your Questions About Its Fate Under the Trump Budget

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This is very helpful.  A taste:

Is NEH closed?

No. NEH is not closed. NEH is not in the process of shutting down. Using funds appropriated for the current fiscal year, NEH is continuing its normal operations and intends to award additional grants following the meeting of the National Council on the Humanities in July 2017.

For FY 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017, President Donald J. Trump has requested that Congress appropriate $42 million to NEH to meet matching grant offers and to cover administrative expenses for closure. The President’s proposed budget, however, is only the first step in a long budget process. Ultimately, Congress will decide whether and to what extent to fund NEH for FY 2018, and the President will decide to sign or veto the relevant appropriations bill.

Is NEH closed to new applications?

NEH will continue to accept grant applications for FY 2018 according to its established deadlines and will continue to operate as usual unless and until the President and Congress require otherwise. NEH staff are actively working with potential applicants and current grantees every workday. Please review upcoming grant deadlines on our website.

Can NEH ever advocate for its budget?

As an agency of the Executive Branch of the Federal government, NEH answers to the President and must support his proposed budget, including his request that Congress eliminate the agency.

Since Congress created NEH in 1965, the agency has issued more than 63,000 grants, totaling more than $5.3 billion. This public investment has led to the creation of award-winning books, films, museum exhibits, spurred innovative research and discovery, and ensured the preservation of significant cultural resources in all 50 states. Congress may well consider these achievements and seek additional information directly from NEH in considering the agency’s value and whether to fund the agency for FY 2018 and beyond.

What can NEH grantees, humanities organizations, and national service organizations do to share information about the agency’s value?

NEH partners can educate their communities on NEH’s impact by crediting the National Endowment for the Humanities:

  • Within any materials that describe an NEH-funded project
  • On signage and in remarks at an event or in a venue that promotes an NEH-funded project
  • In opinion editorials published in your local newspaper or other media outlets about your grant
  • By sharing and/or linking to NEH materials on your project website
  • By including @NEHgov when you tweet about an NEH-funded project

Read the entire press release here.

Do Universities “Police the Imagination?”

RisingMadison Smartt Bell, an English professor at Goucher College, a writer, and a finalist for the National Book Award, begins his Chronicle of Higher Education essay “Policing the Imagination” with this story:

In the latest issue of Write, a publication of the Writers’ Union of Canada, its then-editor, Hal Niedzviecki, argued that “anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” and to write about them. There was an immediate outcry from other contributors and union members. The union apologized for what Niedzviecki had published. Niedzviecki resigned as editor. Newscoverage made it clear that he had effectively been convicted of disbelief in the concept of “cultural appropriation,” which in the view of his accusers amounts to a form of heresy.

The identity politics informing this scandal and other recent and similar episodes (such as the novelist Lionel Shriver’s controversial speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival last year) date back to the 1990s. Since then, an unwritten rule prohibiting a member of a particular identity group from speaking as if from within the experience of another identity group has gained power, and nowadays it is often very loudly and stringently enforced. A kind of silencing ensues from the enforcement.

He then describes, as a white male, how he has spent his entire career writing fiction from the point of view of African Americans and Haitians.

He concludes with his thoughts on liberal arts education:

…an essential goal of liberal-arts education is to broaden the views of students and improve their capacity for empathy by exposing them to kinds of people different from their kind. A great deal of that work used to be accomplished by reading imaginative literature under the umbrella of the now-rapidly dwindling English major. Now that so many students would rather write than read, it’s incumbent upon us as teaching writers to get the same job done.

Writing isn’t only about self-expression, I argue. It’s about imagining the lives of others and representing them in a convincing way. So you, students, are encouraged to think and write outside your identity group’s comfort zone. If you bring us Tonto, you can expect to be reproached for that. But if you research and learn in good faith, if you imagine in good faith, if you compose with enough artistry and conviction, you might bring us back something that enlarges our view of the world and the people in it, even as it expands your own.

To make that happen, I tell the students, requires a community of trust — but we don’t automatically have that now, when we have just convened our group for the first time. Now is when we have to start building it — right now, without delay.

So far I’ve been able to get that approach to work in my classroom … but maybe it’s not such an accomplishment to create the necessary community spirit in a group of 15 young people who already share a number of good intentions. Outside the academy, the stakes are much higher. If there was ever such a community of trust in the American national discourse, it is a shame that we have lost it, and we need to get it back. We need to abandon the fortified positions into which identity politics has forced us, and find a way to make ourselves not only heard, but understood, across the chasms that divide us.

So I wonder how this works in the history classroom?  I think it is fair to say that even though I am not a scholar of American slavery, I know more about slavery than nearly all of my students.  Does this mean I am not in a position to teach about the subject?  I don’t think any historian would say this, but it does seem to be the logical end of the kind of identity politics Bell is talking about here.

I want my students–all of them–to be able to see the world from the perspective of someone who is different.  As Bell puts it, I want to “broaden their capacity for empathy.” Sometimes this requires an act of the imagination.  I want my white students to engage deeply with the story of slavery in seventeenth-century Virginia, the life of Frederick Douglass, the plight of 19th-century African American Philadelphia businessman James Forten, and the sorrow of Cherokees on the Trail of Tears.

I want my male students to encounter the boldness of Anne Hutchinson.  I want to expose them to the late 18th-century female community on the Maine frontier that was cultivated by the midwife Martha Ballard.  I want them to understand colonial America from the perspective of “Good Wives” and see the American Revolution through the eyes of Judith Sargent Murray or Phillis Wheatley.

I want my African American students to understand Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson on their own terms, not through some kind of twenty-first century grid that makes them one-dimensional characters that lack complexity.  The same could be said about Western Civilization more broadly.

I do all of this not primarily because I think the ideas of these men and women are right or wrong, but because the encounter with their voices and their stories forces students to think in a more nuanced way about these historical figures–a way that recognizes their humanity and their brokenness.  This kind of reflection might even help my students to reflect more deeply on the social and cultural issues that they believe to be important in their everyday lives as they seek to live justly in this world.

Confessions of a Lonely Christian Historian

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I think all of us who pursue a life of the mind are, to some degree, lonely people.  We live in the world of ideas.  We spend a lot of our time in isolation–reading, studying, thinking, writing. We tend to be introverts.  For those committed to independent thinking, the chance of being marginalized from this or that community only increases.

Recently I have read several things, heard several things, and have been in several conversations that have reinforced a sense of the professional and intellectual loneliness that I have experienced over the last several years.  At the risk of becoming overly confessional, self-indulgent, or dark, I thought I would mention them here.

I am sure some folks will appreciate my thoughts.  Others will deconstruct them in negative ways.  These are the risks I take every day when I write at this blog.  One day I feel that writing at The Way of Improvement Leads Home is an act of courage. The next day I wonder if what I have been doing here for the past eight years has been one big act of foolishness.

So here goes:

I am a first-generation college student and the son of working-class parents.  This means that I am constantly trying to live between the worlds of my uneducated extended family and my own advanced education.  This has been even harder since the election of Donald Trump.  It can get pretty lonely at times.

As a faculty member at a Christian college who tries to do good historical work and be a contributing member of my profession, I realize that my decision to devote the first half of my career to a place called “Messiah College” has raised red flags.  I will never know how my work as a professor at a Christian college has influenced the ways the profession has received me or my work, but I have no doubt that it has and it does.  I am sure that most of my historian colleagues do not have to explain as much as I do why they teach at the place where they teach.  As much as I honor and respect the work of historians, and try to participate in that work when I can, I will never feel part of the historical profession nor do I think I will ever be fully accepted within it.  This used to make me feel lonely, but the older I get the less I am bothered by it.

I am an evangelical Christian.  That comes with certain beliefs and ways of understanding the world that make me different from other historians and even different from other Christians at my institution, especially those in the humanities who tend to gravitate toward other Christian traditions.

I am a faculty member who wants to defend the traditional liberal arts, the discipline of history and its patterns of thinking, and the pursuit of a humanities education that transcends political and social agendas.  I am often criticized by those–many of whom teach humanities in my own institution–who see the goal of Christian college education differently.  I find myself constantly fighting against those who perceive the Christian college classroom as a place to moralize and preach about social and political issues.  I wonder about my place in the mix.

I am a historian and Christian who is critical of conservative evangelicals and other right-wing attempts to blend Christian faith with political power or promote the idea of the United States as a Christian nation. My critique of the so-called “court evangelicals” makes me a bit of an outcast in my church community (although I feel this changing a bit) and perhaps raises some red flags among conservative colleagues at my institution.

I believe Christian colleges are doing a nice job of training people for our capitalist economy, but they are doing a poor job of investing in the preparation of people for life in a democracy. This means that I am viewed as suspect by most people in society and especially by those champions of pre-professional education who now dominate so many Christian colleges, including my own.

What makes this all so difficult is the fact that I have fellow-travelers and conversation partners in all of these areas.  And the same people who are fellow-travelers in one category will often part ways with me on other issues.  This, of course, is normal. I would not expect anything different.  I think all of us deal with this in some way, but I wonder if those of us who live a life of the mind experience such loneliness more than others. Finding common ground can be hard work.

Are Humanists Killing the Humanities?

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Check out Eric Adler‘s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education: “When Humanists Undermine the Humanities.”  Adler teaches classics at the University of Maryland.

Here is a taste:

Paeans to a literary work’s power and beauty seem faintly embarrassing and out of place in academic scholarship. After all, scholars don’t want to receive the same scorn that Speaking for the Humanities doled out to “belle lettrists who unselfconsciously sustain traditional hierarchies, traditional social and cultural exclusions, assuming that their audience is both universal and homogenous.” As if that weren’t a sufficient admonition, in a 1991 column in The Chronicle, Paula Rothenberg contended that “the traditional curriculum teaches all of us to see the world through the eyes of privileged, white, European males and to adopt their interests and perspectives as our own.” Consider yourselves warned, fans of Homer, Virgil, and Shakespeare!

Without a reinvigoration of aesthetic criteria in the humanities, the enterprise of humanists is doomed. Already the sick man on sundry campuses, the study of literature and the arts will never survive without recovering the means to defend its value on its own terms. This is not to say that we should turn a blind eye to diversity and inclusiveness. After all, the culture wars were fruitful in helping demonstrate that a variety of cultural traditions are home to works of great beauty and profundity.

But we must recognize that in some key respects, the traditionalists of the academic culture wars were correct. Aesthetic quality and intellectual import are key ingredients in the defense of the humanities, wherever they may be found. Without such ingredients, well-meaning advocates are left with impoverished justifications for undergraduate courses in literature and the arts.

In an 1884 speech defending the compulsory collegiate study of ancient Greek, Daniel Henry Chamberlain, a Yale and Harvard graduate and onetime governor of South Carolina, included specific appeals to the value of individual works of Greek literature. “Of the works of Plato it may be said that, apart from the thought which they contain, they are true literary masterpieces,” Chamberlain said. Without kindred sentiments from the pens of unembarrassed humanists, the study of literature and the arts on American college campuses is in danger of dying altogether.

Read the entire piece here.

“Powerlessness and the Politics of Blame”

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A couple of weeks ago I posted my tweets from Martha Nussbaum‘s Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities.  I am happy to report that the transcript of the lecture is now available on the website of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Here is a taste of “Powerlessness and the Politics of Blame:”

It might seem strange to compare King to Aeschylus, though it’s really not strange at all, given King’s vast learning in literature and philosophy. He’s basically saying the same thing: democracy must give up the empty and destructive thought of payback and move toward a future of legal justice and human well-being. King’s opponents portrayed his stance as weak. Malcolm X said sardonically that it was like coffee that has had so much milk poured into it that it has turned white and cold, and doesn’t even taste like coffee. But that was wrong. King’s stance is strong, not weak. He resists one of the most powerful of human impulses, the retributive impulse, for the sake of the future. One of the trickiest problems in politics is to persist in a determined search for solutions, without letting fear deflect us onto the track of anger’s errors. The idea that Aeschylus and King share is that democratic citizens should face with courage the problems and, yes, the outrageous injustices that we encounter in political and social life. Lashing out in anger and fear does not solve the problem; instead, it leads, as it did in both Athens and Rome, to a spiral of retributive violence.

Read the entire speech here.

 

The Federal Government Has Been Funding American History For a Long, Long Time

 

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Ebenezer Hazard

Over at the St. Louis Dispatch, Washington University English professor Abram Van Engen reminds us, in the wake of possible cuts to the National Endowment of Humanities, that the United States has always been in the business of funding the study of history.

 

Here is a taste of his piece:

The first ever federal grant for historical research was recommended by the Continental Congress in 1778. The United States had declared its independence two years before, but it was still fighting to make it stand. In the midst of the American Revolution, with plenty on their minds, Sam Adams, William Duer and Richard Henry Lee approved a $1,000 grant to a man named Ebenezer Hazard to collect, edit, introduce and publish American historical papers.

Founding Fathers lined up to support Hazard. Thomas Jefferson praised his project as “an undertaking of great utility to the continent in general.” When Hazard created a subscription for his collection in 1791, it was signed by the most notable figures of the day, beginning with President George Washington and including the vice president, Cabinet members, senators, representatives and others.

In recommending the grant, Continental Congress determined that Hazard’s “undertaking is laudable, and deserves the public patronage and encouragement, as being productive of public utility.” That was a common view in those days. A good knowledge of history (both American and otherwise) gave people perspective and enabled them to use their liberty well and prosper the republic. The Founding Fathers and the early republic considered history a “practical” subject essential for citizenship. It doesn’t take much looking in the writings of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and many others to find them praising the good of history.

Jefferson, for example, believed that knowledge of history would enable citizens to resist the encroachments of tyranny. In illuminating “the minds of the people at large,” especially with “a knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth,” Americans would “be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.” Historical studies were the best way to understand how societies rose and fell, providing real life moral and political lessons. A study of history was necessary for the defense of liberty.

Read the entire piece here.

Tweeting the 2017 NEH Jefferson Lecture

This morning I wrote a post on this lecture.

Martha Nussbaum’s Jefferson Lecture offered a stinging critique to those who believe democracy can flourish, or justice can be obtained, through retributive anger.

Here are some my tweets: