The National Endowment for the Humanities announces new awards and grants

NEH Logo MASTER_082010

Here are a few of the recent grants that caught our eye:

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Outright: $10,000

[Preservation Assistance Grants]
Project Director: Elizabeth Burgess
Project Title: Updating Manuscript Collection Housing Part II
Project Description: The purchase of preservation supplies as the second phase of rehousing the Stowe Center’s manuscript collections. The Center’s collection of 195,000 items dating from c. 1500 to the present include the Foote Collection of Stowe’s maternal family manuscripts; the Katharine Seymour Day Collection of the historic preservationist’s personal correspondence, notes, financial papers, family materials, and other documents; the Saturday Morning Club Collection, with meeting agendas, invitations, programs, minutes, and membership lists of the Hartford Women’s Literary Club; and the papers of architect George Keller. Together, these collections illuminate such topics as the material culture and history of antislavery, the history of slavery in the United States, women’s roles, the history of stage and screen, and historic preservation in Hartford.

Reinhardt College Outright: $189,004
[Landmarks of American History]
Project Director: William Bishop
Project Title: The Trail of Tears: Context and Perspectives
Project Description: Two one-week workshops for 72 school teachers about the history and culture of the Cherokee people.

University of Maryland, College Park Outright: $350,000
[Scholarly Editions and Translations]
Project Director: Leslie Rowland
Project Title: Freedmen and Southern Society Project
Project Description: Preparation for publication of volumes 8 and 9 of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867.

Massachusetts Historical Society Outright: $350,000
[Scholarly Editions and Translations]
Project Director: Sara Martin
Project Title: Adams Papers Editorial Project
Project Description: Preparation for publication of volumes 20, 21, and 22 of the papers of John Adams (1735–1826) and volumes 15, 16, and 17 of the Adams Family’s correspondence.

Vincent Cannato Outright: $60,000
[Public Scholars]
University of Massachusetts, Boston
Project Title: Powerhouse: Francis Cardinal Spellman (1889–1967) and America’s Catholic Cold War
Project Description: Research and writing leading to a biography of Archbishop Francis Cardinal Spellman (1889–1967) and his influence on religion, politics, and American life

University of Massachusetts, Lowell Outright: $180,008
[Landmarks of American History]
Project Director: Sheila Kirschbaum
Project Title: Social Movements and Reform in Industrializing America: The Lowell Experience
Project Description: Two one-week workshops for 72 school teachers on the history of reform movements in Lowell, MA.

University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Outright: $189,702
[Landmarks of American History]
Project Director: Anthony Arrigo
Project Title: Sailing to Freedom: New Bedford and the Underground Railroad
Project Description: Two one-week workshops for 72 school teachers to explore abolitionism and the Underground Railroad in the port city of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey Outright: $251,536
[National Digital Newspaper Program]
Project Director: Caryn Radick
Project Title: New Jersey Digital Newspaper Project
Project Description: Digitization of 100,000 pages of New Jersey newspapers, published between 1800 and 1926, as part of the state’s participation in the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP).

Christopher Bellitto Outright: $35,000
[Public Scholars]
Kean University
Project Title: Humility: A History of a Lost Virtue
Project Description: Research and writing of a book on the idea of humility in world literature, religion, philosophy, mythology, and theater.

Teagle Foundation Outright: $3,000,000
[Cooperative Agreements and Special Projects (Education)]
Project Director: Andrew Delbanco
Project Title: The “Cornerstone” Approach to Reinvigorating General Education
Project Description: A five-year cooperative agreement to develop and implement new humanities pathways in undergraduate education.

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Outright: $111,947
[Institutes for School Teachers]
Project Director: Denver Brunsman
Project Title: The Making of America: Colonial Era to Reconstruction
Project Description: A one-week institute for 30 K–8 teachers on United States history from the colonial era through Reconstruction, to be held in Washington, D.C.

New-York Historical Society Outright: $161,860
[Institutes for School Teachers]
Project Director: Mia Nagawiecki
Project Title: Early Encounters in the American Colonies
Project Description: A two-week institute for 30 K–12 teachers on the history of women in colonial America.

Historic Hudson Valley Outright: $189,384
[Landmarks of American History]
Project Director: Elizabeth Bradley
Project Title: Slavery in the Colonial North
Project Description: Two one-week workshops for 72 K–12 educators on the history of slavery in the colonial north.

Fort Ticonderoga Association Outright: $92,257
[Institutes for School Teachers]
Project Director: Richard Strum
Project Title: For the Common Defense: Subjects, Citizens, and America’s Military Origins, 1609–1815
Project Description: A two-week institute for 25 middle and high school teachers on the origins and development of American military institutions.

University of Oregon Outright: $99,985
[Digital Humanities Advancement Grants]
Project Director: Daniel Rosenberg; Anthony Grafton (co-project director)
Project Title: Time Online II: The Time Charts of Joseph Priestley
NEH Grant Offers and Awards, July 2020

David Pettegrew Outright: $60,000
[Public Scholars]
Messiah College
Project Title: The Archaeology of the Early Christian World: History, Methods, Evidence
Project Description: Research and writing for a book on the archaeological history of Early Christianity.

University of South Carolina, Columbia Outright: $200,000
[Scholarly Editions and Translations]
Project Director: Constance Schulz
Project Title: The Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen of South Carolina: A Digital Documentary Edition
Project Description: Preparation for digital publication of volume 4 of the papers of three South Carolina statesmen: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746–1825), Thomas Pinckney (1750–1828), and Charles Pinckney (1757–1824).

University of Virginia Outright: $256,000
[Scholarly Editions and Translations] Match: $78,000
Project Director: Jennifer Stertzer
Project Title: The Papers of U.S. President George Washington (1732–1799)
Project Description: Preparation for publication of volumes 30 through 38 of the Revolutionary War series of the papers of George Washington (1732–1799).

University of Mary Washington Outright: $180,000
[Scholarly Editions and Translations] Match: $20,000
Project Director: Daniel Preston; Robert Karachuk (co-project director)
Project Title: The Papers of James Monroe
Project Description: Preparation for publication of volumes 8 and 9 of the papers of James Monroe (1758–1831), fifth president of the United States.

Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture Outright: $146,125
[Institutes for School Teachers]
Project Director: Karin Wulf
Project Title: Teaching the History and Culture of Vast Early America
Project Description: A two-week institute for 25 K–12 teachers on the broad history of colonial America.

Congratulations to all the grant winners!

National Endowment for the Humanities Announces Grant Awards


Read the press release here.  A few awards that caught my eye:

  • Azusa Pacific University: A residential bridge program for first generation students that incorporates an introductory humanities course and complementary labs and field trips focused on the ideas, arguments, and points of view contained in the Declaration of Independence.
  • Amanda Baugh (University of California–Northridge): Research and writing leading to a book about the environmental values of Latinx Catholics in Los Angeles and the history of American environmentalism.
  • Santa Clara University: Development of an augmented reality and virtual reality experience to explore the history of the Santa Clara de Asís mission.
  • Flordia Atlantic University: Development of a multiformat project on the history of Mitchelville, South Carolina, the first Freedman’s town in the United States during the Civil War.
  • Anne Arundel Community College: A three-year partnership to incorporate the study of primary sources into community college courses and establish transfer pathways for students.
  • Anne Rubin (University of Maryland): Research leading to a book about the impact of food shortages on food culture in the Civil War South.
  • Timothy Shenk (Johns Hopkins): Research and writing leading to a book on the history of the concept of the modern economy in the United States.
  • National History Day: A three-year cooperative agreement that would extend and expand NEH’s partnership with National History Day, in response to NEH’s “A More Perfect Union” initiative.
  • Eric Gardner (Saginaw Valley University): Research and writing of a book on Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911), African American author, orator, abolitionist, suffragist, and civil rights leader.
  • Katherine Gerbner (University of Minnesota): Research and writing leading to a book on the development of  ideas about religion and religious freedom in colonial America as they were shaped by slavery and the criminalization of black religious practices.
  • Peter Mercer-Taylor (University of Minnesota): Preparation of an open-access digital anthology of almost 300 hymn melodies published in the United States before 1861 derived from European classical music.
  • Historic Hudson Valley: Prototyping of an interactive digital history on the New York Conspiracy trials (1741), in which both enslaved people and poor white New Yorkers stood accused of plotting to burn the city and murder its white inhabitants.
  • Jonathan Schroeder (University of Warwick): Research and writing leading to a biography of John S. Jacobs (1815–1875) and a critical edition of Jacobs’s 1855 autobiographical slave narrative.
  • Sharon Murphy (Providence College): Completion of a book on the relationship between banking and slavery in the antebellum South.
  • ETV Endowment of South Carolina Inc.: Production of an immersive website and mobile application exploring the impact and legacy of Reconstruction.

Click here for a list of all the winners.

Anne-Imelda Radice is the New Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities

Anne Imelda Radice

Here is the press release:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 12, 2018) — The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is pleased to announce the appointment of Anne-Imelda Radice as the new director of NEH’s Division of Public Programs and as a special advisor to NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede.

“Having awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in federal cultural grants during her career, Anne brings a wealth of wisdom and experience to our agency,” said Chairman Peede. “We are delighted to have her as a colleague and mentor to staff.”

Radice brings more than forty years of experience in public humanities and federal service to the position. Since 2012 Radice has served as Executive Director of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, where she increased the museum’s profile by opening a second site and attracting financial support from the Ford Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and Luce Foundation. In addition, she instituted an apprenticeship program at the museum for underserved students from LaGuardia Community College.

Her most recent government position was as Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, where she served in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. She has also served as Chief of Staff for the U.S. Department of Education, Chief Arts Advisor for the U.S. Information Agency, and Curator for the Architect of the U.S. Capitol.

Radice’s new position will be a return to NEH. In 2005 she served as the agency’s Acting Deputy Chairman and Special Advisor to the Chairman. In her tenure at NEH, she helped develop and oversee the agency’s 40th anniversary as well as its Picturing America initiative, which brought masterpieces of American art into schools and libraries. She has also served at NEH’s sister agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, where she was appointed Acting Chairman of NEA in 1992.

Radice has also served as Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. She is the recipient of the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, the Forbes Medal, and the NEA’s Chairman’s Medal.

She holds an MBA from American University, a PhD in art and architectural history with a specialty in Renaissance architecture from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, an MA from Villa Schifanoia School of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy, and an AB from Wheaton College.

P.S.  For my evangelical readers, Radice is a graduate of the OTHER Wheaton College.

How To Fight Trump’s Cuts to the Humanities



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


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


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.

What Does the Trump Budget Mean for Civics, History, Archives, and Education?

make-america-great-againThe National Coalition for History sums it up pretty well:

On May 23, President Trump sent his proposed fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget request to Congress.  As expected, it includes 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 K-12 history and civics grants and Title VI/Fulbright-Hays international education programs at the U.S. Department of Education. Click here for a link to a chart summarizing the proposed budget for these and other federal history-related programs. There will be an in-depth agency-by-agency analysis posted on the NCH website shortly.

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



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:

Martha Nussbaum on the Humanities


Last night in Washington D.C., University of Chicago philosopher delivered the 2017 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture.  Several Messiah College students and faculty were in attendance.

I did some delayed tweeting of the talk last night @johnfea1.  I used the #jefflec17 hashtag.

If you don’t have time to watch the lecture or check the tweets, you may want to read Nussbaum’s interview with NEH chair Williams Adams in Humanities magazine.  Here is a taste:

WILLIAM D. ADAMS: Your book Not for Profit made the case for the importance of the humanities in American democratic life. Have things changed substantially since it was published in 2010?

MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM: Data on humanities majors is still a source of concern, but there’s been a big increase in total enrollments in humanities courses in community colleges. And in adult education, too, there’s been a huge upsurge. The preface to the new edition of my book gives data and sources on all this.

We are lucky in the United States to have our liberal arts system. In most countries, if you go to university, you have to decide for all English literature or no literature, all philosophy or no philosophy. But we have a system that is one part general education and one part specialization. If your parents say you’ve got to major in computer science, you can do that. But you can also take general education courses in the humanities, and usually you have to.

ADAMS: Yet I’ve sensed some weakening of our resolve to support the liberal arts. What should we be doing to reinforce your way of thinking about higher education?

NUSSBAUM: There are three points you can make. The one I think should be front and center is that the humanities prepare students to be good citizens and help them understand a complicated, interlocking world. The humanities teach us critical thinking, how to analyze arguments, and how to imagine life from the point of view of someone unlike yourself.

Secondly, we need to emphasize their economic value. Business leaders love the humanities because they know that to innovate you need more than rote knowledge. You need a trained imagination.

Singapore and China, which don’t want to encourage democratic citizenship, are expanding their humanities curricula. These reforms are all about developing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.

But the humanities also teach us the value, even for business, of criticism and dissent. When there’s a culture of going along to get along, where whistleblowers are discouraged, bad things happen and businesses implode.

The third point is about the search for meaning. Life is about more than earning a living, and if you’re not in the habit of thinking about it, you can end up middle-aged or even older and shocked to realize that your life seems empty.

Read the entire interview here.

And here is a shot of the Messiah College contingency in Washington, courtesy of Pete Powers’s Facebook page:


The Rise of U.S. Power Corresponds to the Growth of Its Educational Institutions


Anthony Eames gets it.  He is a nuclear historian working on a Ph.D at Georgetown University.  His piece “The New Know-Nothings” makes a historical connection between the United States’s investment in education and the nation’s security.

Here is a taste of Eames’s piece at War on the Rocks:

President John F. Kennedy steered the United States through the most dangerous moments of the Cold War during the Berlin and Cuban Missile Crises. Afterwards, he made a special appeal to Congress, arguing, “For the nation, increasing the quality and availability of education is vital to both our national security and our domestic well being.” Kennedy insisted that the cultivation of the American intellect through federal funding for education must be a security priority in an increasingly dangerous world. Kennedy’s wisdom appears to be lost on President Donald Trump. The new president offers policy proposals that suggest he fails to see how education and intellectual capital contribute to the safety of the United States.

Trump has unapologetically proposed an immigration ban targeted at Muslim countries and a $54 billion increase in defense spending that purportedly “advances the safety and security of the American people.” However, these policies come at the cost of cutting funds to federal agencies — such as the State Department (28.7 percent) and the Department of Education (13.5 percent) — that support critical education and research programs. As such, these proposed policies will jeopardize U.S. security by neglecting the educational and intellectual growth necessary to sustain American power. Historically, the federal government nurtured the American intellect through investment in education at all levels, funding cultural and humanities programs and embracing foreign intellectual talent. These initiatives have reinforced American security by contributing to diplomacy and strategic thinking, the development of military technologies and tactics, and the pace of economic innovation. Given this context, cutting important education funds and limiting immigration undermines the intellectual development imperative to U.S. power and influence.

The rise of U.S. power corresponds to the growth of its educational institutions. In the early years of the Civil War, Southern officers proved strategic superiors to most of their Union counterparts. Recognizing these deficiencies, Rep. Justin Smith Morrill advocated for the 1862 Land-Grant College Act in Congress by embedding military training into the curriculums of institutions of higher education funded by the federal government, creating a network of nurseries for educating military officers across the United States. In turn, Land-Grant colleges promoted regional diversity in the military and bridged social divides by connecting far-flung territories with urban centers through a web of academic contacts.

The American university boom in the early 20th century was a direct result of the Land-Grant College Act. This boom created an institutional gravitational pull that drew in some of the brightest minds fleeing violence and fascism in Europe. Thanks to the initiatives of American universities, an infusion of intellectual capital transformed the United States into the global scientific power that it is today. Émigré scientists built up the scientific infrastructure in the U.S. that was critical in developing superior technologies during World War II and the Cold War. In constructing the first atomic bomb, Enrico Fermi’s lab at the University of Chicago produced the necessary nuclear chain reaction. Émigré scientists like Hans Bethe, John Von Neumann, Joseph Rotblat, Eugene Wigner, and Stanislaw Ulam drew up bomb designs at the Los Alamos Laboratory under the stewardship of the University of California system.

Read the entire piece here.

Thanks to Jennifer Bryson of Center for Islam & Religious Freedom for bringing this piece to my attention.

NEH Announces New Grant Recipients

NEH Logo MASTER_082010

The National Endowment for the Humanities just released its most recent list of grantees. Here are a few that caught my eye:

Ford’s Theatre Society Outright: $40,000 [Exhibitions: Planning] Project Director: Sarah Jencks Project Title: Ford’s Theatre Society Exhibition on Changing Historical Memory

Michael McVicar Outright: $6,000 [Summer Stipends] Florida State University Project Title: A History of Religious Activism and Intelligence Gathering in the U.S. after the Civil War

Berea Berea College Outright: $99,998 [Humanities Connections] Project Director: Jason Cohen Project Title: Engaging the Humanities Across Appalachia

Allison Lange Outright: $6,000 [Summer Stipends] Wentworth Institute of Technology Project Title: The Visual Politics of the Woman Suffrage Movement from American Independence through the Nineteenth Amendment

Edward Cahill Outright: $6,000 [Summer Stipends] Fordham University Project Title: Benjamin Franklin and Upward Mobility in British America

Rochester Institute of Technology Outright: $91,018 [Humanities Connections] Project Director: Lisa Hermsen Project Title: Community, Memory, and a Sense of Place

Honor Sachs Outright: $6,000 [Summer Stipends] Western Carolina University Project Title: The Life of Bartholomew Fenton: A Story of Revolution, Transformation, and Violence in Early America

County of Beaufort Outright: $50,000 [Historic Places: Planning] Project Director: Page Miller Project Title: The First Civil Rights Movement: The Epic Story of Reconstruction in Beaufort County, SC and Nationwide

Evan Haefeli Outright: $6,000 [Summer Stipends] Texas A & M University, College Station Project Title: Religious Toleration in America, 1660-1714

University of Virginia Outright: $100,000 [Media Projects Production] Project Director: Andrew Parsons Project Title: BackStory with the American History Guys: Finding the American Way (Supplement)

Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture Outright: $40,000 [Humanities Collections and Reference Resources] Project Director: Karin Wulf Project Title: The Georgian Papers Programme: Transatlantic Access and Discovery Planning Stage

A Baptist Pastor and Church History Professor in Kentucky Defends the NEH


Robert Penn Warren

John Inscore Essick is a co-pastor at Port Royal Baptist Church in Henry County, Kentucky and teaches Christian History at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky.  But more importantly, he is a regular reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home!  I am pleased to see him taking to the pages of the Louisville Courier-Journal to defend the humanities in light of Trump’s recent budget proposal.

Here is a taste of his op-ed: “We’ll Be Poorer With Trump’s Cuts to Arts

In 1961, a hundred years after America’s deadliest war began, distinguished Kentuckian Robert Penn Warren wrote that the Civil War left a “gallery of great human images for our contemplation.”

In the years since the beginning of that bloody struggle, novelists, poets, artists, photographers, filmmakers, playwrights, musicians, teachers and historians have worked to help us contemplate the impact of the Civil War on us individually and collectively.

Since 1965, their contemplative work has benefited from funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts. As you may have heard, both of these federal agencies are slated to be defunded under President Trump’s proposed budget. As Bill Goodman recently noted in his op-ed, however, the positive impact of these agencies far outweighs their minimal budgetary cost.

Thanks to the NEH, for example, we have Ken Burns’ excellent and very popular PBS documentary, “The Civil War” (first broadcast in 1990 and rebroadcast in 2015). PBS funding, by the way, is also threatened by President Trump’s proposed budget. How many Kentuckians were among the nearly 40 million viewers to experience Burns’ award-winning examination of the Civil War?

Continuing on the Civil War theme, a grant from NEH made it possible for 80 Kentucky teachers to attend a week-long workshop examining new scholarship on border states during the Civil War.

Thanks to the NEA, since 1969 the nonprofit arts and education center Appalshop in Whitesburg in Letcher County has been chronicling the history, folklore and artistic traditions of Appalachian Kentucky. Appalshop’s work includes, among other things, the cataloging and preservation of 1.8 million feet of 16 mm black-and-white film, 4,000 hours of video, and 2,500 hours of audio. Because of NEA funds, Kentuckians are working to tell the story of Appalachia, challenge stereotypes of Appalachia, support efforts for justice and equity in Appalachia, and celebrate the diversity of Appalachia.

Robert Penn Warren went on to write that “[h]istory cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity so that we can better face the future.” For more than 50 years the NEA and NEH have been helping us contemplate who we have been and who we might yet be. Given our current political climate, this is a time to renew and reaffirm our financial commitment to efforts at fostering empathy, understanding and virtue. If passed, President Trump’s proposed reduction in national funding for the arts and humanities will erode our ability to contemplate the gallery of human images from our past, present, and future, and we will be the poorer for it.

When Free Markets Fail: An Undergraduate Makes a Conservative Case for the National Endowment for the Humanities


If you have been reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home lately you know two things:

  1.  Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
  2.  We have been trying to suggest that this is a bad idea.

Malloy Owen, an undergraduate philosophy student at the University of Chicago, has taken to the pages of The American Conservative to offer a conservative argument for keeping the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Here is a taste of his piece:

Conservatism also allows us to claim that living well is an art cultivated over many generations and not something that each person figures out for herself by herself. The humanities are a living body of reasoning—some ancient and some quite recent—on how to live well. Life without culture is deeply solitary because it forces us to do this sort of reasoning without any help from outside ourselves. The sorts of projects that the NEH and NEA support—from research in the humanities to museum exhibitions to programs that bring Shakespeare plays to rural schoolchildren—give ordinary people access to the history of serious thought about the good. Funding from the two endowments ensures that the old books are still read and talked about; it also supports the production of new works that may find a place in the canon someday.

Many conservatives accept these arguments while arguing that free markets are the best means to spread artistic masterworks across the country. But although markets may be useful for producing and distributing material goods, they are not especially good at regulating cultural production. Good and ennobling art is not always lucrative, and government subsidies are precisely meant to secure goods that society is not wholly capable of securing on its own.

Conservatives are also understandably reluctant to give the state the power to determine what constitutes worthy cultural work. Their arguments are all the more forceful because they can point to numerous cases in which federal grants have supported projects in the arts and humanities that were uninteresting, obscene, or both. As a 1997 Heritage Foundation report calling for the abolition of the NEH and NEA documented in gruesome detail, some funding from these programs goes to genuinely offensive projects.

But the two endowments also support work that conservatives are more likely to consider worthwhile. The NEH funds projects on Marlowe, Machiavelli, and Boccaccio. It has supported invaluable websites like and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It provided a great deal of the funding for Ken Burns’s magisterial documentary series on the Civil War, and it recently helped to pay for the publication of the 13-volume journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For its part, the NEA has backed programs like Live From Lincoln Center, which broadcasts serious music across the country, and Shakespeare in American Communities, which has allowed two million American students to watch Shakespeare plays performed live. An NEA grant helped the Louisiana State University Press publish the then-unknown writer John Kennedy Toole’s novel A Confederacy of Dunces, which has become a conservative favorite. In recent years NEA money has supported new translations of Euripides, Aeschylus, and Homer, among many others.

The range of projects that the NEH and NEA support—from revisionist and progressive work to explorations of tradition—should please conservatives who do not want the government circumscribing the human good within politically narrow definitions. By assigning grants on the basis of artistic seriousness, the NEH and NEA demonstrate their commitment to ideological pluralism.

Read the entire piece here,

Today’s Piece at *Times Higher Ed*


I took a stab at defending the humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities today at Times Higher Education.  Here is the piece:

Donald Trump has issued his first federal budget plan. It eliminates, among other things, the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Practically speaking, the NEH operates on a minuscule budget of $148 million. This represents 0.003 per cent of federal spending in 2016.

Apparently, our president thinks that this money would be better used to pay for a massive border wall or the build-up of what is already the largest and most powerful military in world history. Trump, it seems, wants the government to get out of the business of funding projects that might lead to compassion for those, such as refugees and immigrants, who are in need.

It should alarm us that Trump prefers spending more money on fighter jets than he does on research that might bring peaceful and humane solutions to global problems.

The NEH was created by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act and was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Several things are worth noting about this act.

First, it affirmed that “an advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone” but must also support “great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future”.

Second, it affirmed that “democracy requires wisdom and vision in its citizens” and must provide citizens with education and access to arts and humanities to “make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants”.

Third, it affirmed that the arts and humanities reflect Americans’ respect for “the nation’s rich cultural heritage” and foster respect for our country’s vast diversity.

Fourth, it affirmed that “the world leadership which has come to the United States cannot rely solely upon superior power, wealth, and technology, but must be solidly founded upon worldwide respect and admiration for the Nation’s high qualities as a leader in the realm of ideas and of the spirit”.

Perhaps Donald Trump has not read the text of this important act. Or perhaps he has read it and simply does not care.

I have seen two basic but ultimately unconvincing arguments for eliminating the NEH.

The first argument suggests that American society does not need the humanities, rejecting the entire philosophy behind the 1965 act that created the NEH.

Trump wants to eliminate an agency that will help our democracy to thrive. The humanities cultivate the pursuit of truth and evidence-based arguments, empathy for the views of others, civic understanding and an awareness that we are members of a human community that is larger than ourselves or our current moment in time.

The second argument against the NEH is made by libertarian-leaning politicians who appreciate what the humanities bring to US society but do not think that the federal government should be in the business of promoting them.

I would be sympathetic to this argument if I believed that private and corporate interests would step up with the money necessary to support the humanities and the cultural institutions that bring them to life for millions of Americans.

Our shared culture and traditions are constantly evolving and changing to meet the needs of the people who invoke them. The preservation and reinterpretation of these traditions, and the democratic virtues that come with such activity, need support. Do we really want to trust the treasured traditions, stories and markers of our collective or group identities to a capitalist market that is driven predominantly by the pursuit of profit at all cost?

The grand stories of our national identity have a good chance of surviving under such privatisation. We will continue to hear, read and learn about Gettysburg, Paul Revere, women’s suffrage and Martin Luther King Jr.

But what will happen to our ability to tell the local and regional stories that have given meaning to life in small places? Who will fund the work of telling stories of everyday world-changers who have been forgotten because they do not conform easily to our national narratives? Can we rely on those in the private sector to care about the experience a child might have at a small museum or historical site – an experience that could change her life and reorient her way of seeing the world?

In Donald Trump’s America, study and reflection on these kinds of things do not matter. We may be on the brink of a cultural holocaust, and we all have a responsibility to prevent it from happening.

It Was Only a Matter of Time Before a Conservative Media Outlet Did A Story Like This


The Washington Times is running a story titled “Life Without the Arts?: Top 10 Crazy Grants Given by the NEA and NEH.”

Here is a taste journalist Kelly Riddell‘s piece:

Democrats — and the elitist liberal media — have gone apoplectic on President Trump’s proposed funding cuts to the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Trump wants to cut the NEA and NEH. This is the worst case scenario for arts groups,” The Washington Post warned.

The Christian Science Monitor wrote: “What America without the NEA and NEH would look like, and why that matters,” forewarning a world without these institutions would mean those in the most rural areas — Mr. Trump’s own voters — would be deprived the cultural enrichment they deserve.

So, I was curious to see what this cultural enrichment looks like. Here’s what I feel are the top 10 contributions to society the NEA and NEH have made. I can’t imagine my taxpayer funds going to anything better.

Riddell then lists NEH-funded projects on “smells” in a medieval history museum and pets in Victorian England.  (I should add that only 2 of her ten examples are NEH-funded projects.  The rest are NEA).

I was waiting for an article like this to appear.  That’s why I wrote this.  And that’s why I have been writing these blog posts.


The National Endowment for the Humanities Helped Archaeologist William Kelso and His Team Find Jamestown


Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund important programs.

It is probably the greatest archaeological discovery in American history. For over two hundred years historians and archaeologists had assumed that Jamestown, the first successful English colony in America, was decaying somewhere at the bottom of the James River.  Archaeologist William Kelso had other ideas.  In 1994 he took a shovel and started digging.  With the help of over $300,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities he found the fort!

Here is a small taste of the story, courtesy of the NEH website:

…Soon joined by a rotating team of scientists, curators, and volunteers, Kelso began to uncover postholes (pits that once held upright structural timbers), old cellars, and all sorts of cultural detritus: ceramic shards, tobacco pipes, food scraps, and pieces of European armor, some of which had been modified for New World combat. By 1996, the team was confident enough in their finds to announce publicly the rediscovery of James Fort, the first settlement’s first structure, and begin aligning the physical evidence they had gathered with the sparse written records of Smith and others who lived there.

The story that the documentary and archaeological evidence tells is one of hope and industry set against the brutal realities of life in the New World. The colonists built impressive fortifications but struggled for power among themselves (the first grave found at the site contained an Englishman likely killed by a musket ball). They manufactured glass and copper beads for trade with local Powhatan tribes but never managed to establish enduring peace with the native people (Smith himself was abducted but, according to his own account, saved by Pocahontas). For the sake of claiming a share of the New World, they endured disease, the constant threat of violence, and, during the winter of 1609, hunger so dire they resorted to cannibalism.

That last grisly item—recounted in a number of seventeenth-century sources—was confirmed in 2012, when the Jamestown Rediscovery team disinterred the bones of a young English woman. Her skull bore markings consistent with what forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum describes as “postmortem processing.”

Read more here.  And here is some information about the Jamestown Rediscovery Project.

And a couple of cool videos:

For other posts in this series click here.

Leach: Tyrants Fear the Humanities

Leach.pngJim Leach is a retired Republican congressman from Iowa and former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Over at The Daily Beast he defends federal funding for the humanities in the wake of Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal that would eliminate the NEH.

Here is a taste:

Even more significant than issues of commerce are the challenges of citizenship and public leadership when for the first time in history weapons of mass destruction have been proliferated and terrorism has been globalized. The health of nations is directly related to the depth of knowledge applied to public decision-making. Thinking from the gut is costly.

For instance, despite having gone to war in the Persian Gulf a decade earlier, Congress and executive branch policy-makers understood little of the Sunni/Shi’a divide when 9/11 hit. Similarly, despite the French experience in Algeria and the British and Russian in Afghanistan, we had little comprehension of the depth of Islamic antipathy to foreign intervention. Nor, despite the tactics of a Daniel Boone-style patriot named Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” who attacked British garrisons at night during the Revolutionary War and then vanished in South Carolina swamps during the day, we had little comprehension of the effectiveness of asymmetric warfare.

Every American senses that something is askew in our political system. Our judgment is under attack from traditional allies as well as international rivals. Instead of standing forthrightly up for old-fashioned American values—a Lockean respect for individual rights and a Burkean reverence for established social structures—we seem to be lashing out, accentuating domestic ruptures and escalating rather than alleviating international tensions. As a result an increasing number of people on the planet seem to think that America has lost its historical grip. We seem not only to be unschooled in foreign cultures but prone to misunderstand our own heritage.

The conclusion is self-evident. Just as we need to rebuild an infrastructure of roads and bridges, we need to strengthen our infrastructure of ideas.

Tyrants have good reason to fear the humanities. We do not. The humanities are America’s stock and trade. They are a national asset that we shortchange at our peril.

Read the entire piece here.

National Endowment for the Humanities Funds the Warrior-Scholar Project


Warrior-Scholars discussing Tocqueville

Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund programs like this:

According to its website, The Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) “empowers enlisted military veterans by providing them with a skill bridge that enables a successful transition from the battlefield to the classroom; maximizes their education opportunities by making them informed consumers of education, and increases the confidence they will need to successfully complete a rigorous four-year undergraduate program at a top-tier school.”

WSP offers immersive one and two week academic workshops or “bootcamps” free of charge to enlisted veterans at Amherst, Cornell, Georgetown, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Chapel Hill, Arizona, Chicago, Michigan, Princeton, Oklahoma, Southern California, and Yale.

It has several goals:

  • To facilitate the often difficult transition enlisted veterans face when moving from a military culture to the academic culture inherent on college campuses.
  • To demonstrate and explain the foundational skills and methods, or “tricks of the trade” that highly successful college students use.
  • To increase veteran graduation rates.
  • To prepare student-veterans to be leaders in the classroom.

Learn more about this amazing NEH-funded program here.

For other posts in this series click here.

Good to See Some GOP Lawmakers Defending the National Endowment for the Humanities


“Chronicling America” is an NEH-sponsored program that digitizes U.S. newspapers

Michael Cooper and Sopan Deb’s piece at The New York Times calls attention to several GOP members of Congress who are willing to fight for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts after learning that government funding for both of these organizations were eliminated in Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal.

Here is a taste:

Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who is the chairwoman of a crucial Senate appropriations panel that oversees the endowments, said in a statement, “I believe we can find a way to commit to fiscal responsibility while continuing to support the important benefits that N.E.A. and N.E.H. provide.”

Her backing, like that of some other Republicans, comes after years of federal funds have flowed to artists in her state. Since 1995, the endowment has sent more than $18 million in grants to Alaska — a state which, partly because of its small population, ranks near the top when it comes to arts grants per capita.

Two other Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, signed their names last month to a letter urging continued support for the endowments, which together get $300 million a year. A spokeswoman for Senator Capito, who is on the appropriations committee, said Friday that she would “advocate for her priorities, including funding for the arts and humanities, which are important to our economy and communities.”