Humanities on the Hill 2017—with the National Humanities Alliance

Authored on:

Mar 29, 2017
NHA lobbying visit, 2017

A report from our Director, Teresa Mangum

Just as news was breaking that the proposed federal budget could zero out the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, I joined representatives from nearly 200 colleges and universities in Washington, D.C. for the 2017 National Humanities Alliance Advocacy Day. As the current secretary of the NHA Board of Directors, I know firsthand what great work the organization does on behalf of universities like ours.

The NHA was founded in 1981 to advocate for scholarly research, education, and public programming as well as the institutions like museums, libraries, and professional societies on which the study of art, history, philosophy, religion, languages, and literatures depend. They share humanities success stories through social media, conferences, and constant communication with Congress.

Statewide delegation

This year, in a spirit of collaboration, faculty members from UI, Iowa State University, and Coe College visited the Hill together. Leanne Hotek, UI Director of Federal Relations, shephered us to the offices of Iowa Senators and members of Congress. Our goal was to explain how crucial the National Endowment for the Humanities is to scholars and communities across Iowa.

Inspired by widespread enthusiasm for the Obermann Center’s recent international symposium on German Iowa and the Global Midwest, I invited James Lambert, graduate alum of the English Department and the Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy, to share his global humanities experience. Before joining the faculty of Southern Virginia University, James taught at the American University of Kuwait and recently shared his experiences with UI graduate students.Terri Donofrio, chair of Communications Studies at Coe College, recounted her work with the Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids. Barbara Ching, chair of English, and Michael Bailey, professor of History and interim director of the Center of Excellence in the Arts and Humanities, described Iowa State University’s new partnerships with campus science departments.

[Pictured above: Leanne Hotek, Director of Federal Relations, UI;  Terri Donofrio, The Esther and Robert Armstrong Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Coe College; Teresa Mangum, Director of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, UI; James Lambert, Assistant Professor of English and Director of Writing Center, Southern Virginia University and University of Iowa alum; Barbara Ching, Chair, Department of English, Iowa State University; Michael Bailey, Interim Director, Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities and Professor and Director of Graduate Education, Department of History, Iowa State University.]

Leveraging a small budget into astonishing results

We entered offices with a little trepidation, but we walked out feeling hopeful. Staffers are hearing not only from scholars, but also from librarians and archivists in small Iowa towns. Without Institute of Museum and Library Service (IMLS) grants, many of those libraries would close. Iowans who value cultural heritage programs, documentaries, and cultural collaborations with local colleges are calling. NEH supports one book programs for high schools and philosophy programs for returning vets. So, teachers and vets are speaking up, too.

The NEH leverages its $148 million budget (.003 of the national budget) into astonishing results. Add the Fulbright-Hayes Award and the IMLS grants—also threatened by the new budget—and the local impact is impressive. To note just a few recent awards from the NEH to Iowans:

  • Glenn Ehrstine (German), Lisa Heinman (History), and Glenn Penny (History) collaborated with Humanities Iowa—largely funded by the NEH—and units on campus to build an exciting public engagement project into their symposium on German Iowa and the Global Midwest. NEH funding brought high school teachers, historians, and directors of small town museums to campus for an all-day public history workshop. As an exhibit they developed with the Old Capitol Museum travels, these public partners will use the exhibit in communities and classrooms across the state. (2016-17)

  • Judith Pascoe (English) With a "NextGen" grant, Pascoe and a group of faculty, staff, and graduate students planned symposia on various rhetorical forms ranging from the dissertation to the tweet, preparing graduate students to work in increasingly technology-enhanced occupations. (2016-17)

  • Katherine Wilson (Manager of Collections and Exhibition, University of Iowa Museum of Art) received a grant to preserve our collections of African, Turkish, and ancient Andean textiles, helping Iowa students and citizens better understand worldwide civilizations. (2016-17)

  • Katina Lillios (Anthropology) With an NEH Fellowship, Lillios unearthed histories of peoples who lived on the Peninsula between 1,000,000 and 3,000 years ago. Her discoveries, shared in a book that is accessible to students and interested readers as well as scholars, are revolutionizing what we know about human history. (2015-16)

  • Ellen Lewin, (Anthropology and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies) An NEH fellowship set the stage for interviews with members of the Black Pentecostal Church Coalition, an overlooked community that models unique liturgies and social support systems. (2015–16)

  • Kembrew McLeod (Communication Studies) received one of the very first Public Scholar Awards. His book on “The Pop Underground” asks how networks of musicians and artists come together in certain moments, in this case in Lower Manhattan during the 1960s and 1970s. His project suggests how “participatory cultures” work and how we can create them. (2015-16)

  • Lori Branch (English) An NEH Faculty Summer Seminar on “Religious Approaches to the Rise of the English Novel, 1719–1897” brought a lively group of scholars from across Britain and the U.S. to work together in Iowa City. (2015–16)

  • Jonathan Wilcox, (English) also received a Faculty Summer Seminar award. His seminar, “The Materiality of Medieval Manuscripts,” brought experts from around the world to dig into medieval paper making techniques with staff from the Center for the Book.  (2014–15)

  • Cindy Opitz and Suzanne Edwards (UI Pentacrest Museums) used their collections grant to restore many of the 1,500 artifacts Frank Russell (1892–1894) and Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1908–1912) gathered during their arctic explorations. These national treasures include ivory, beadwork, tools, clothing, weapons, ornaments, and other objects representing cultures such as Cree, Athabascan, Inuit, and Dog Rib for classroom study, international research, and posterity. (2015–16)

Share the value of the humanities with elected officials

Thanks to this annual convening of colleagues at the National Humanities Alliance, we came back to Iowa with a vision of the humanities not just as academic subjects, but also as a landscape. The humanities departments of colleges and universities are unique landmarks on that map. But we were repeatedly reminded that humanities scholars are part of a network of institutions and people who passionately believe that the study of history, literature, ethics, arts, international cultures and languages offers a pathway to a peaceful, just, and vibrant future.

We hope you’ll join us in sharing pictures of that landscape with our elected officials as they review budget proposals over the next few months. The NEH, NEA, and ICML need our support. Because as so many Iowans know, those organizations have supported civic culture, communities, and classrooms for more than 50 years. We’re all in their debt.

The National Alliances for the Humanities has an action center that makes it easy to stay in touch with your representatives. If you have suggestions or questions about ways to advocate for the arts and humanities, we’re always happy to help, too. Don’t hesitate to get in touch—and consider joining me next here at the 2018 NHA Advocacy Day.