Historians Joan Kelly, Alice Kessler-Harris, Joan Scott, and Nell Painter, photographer Candacy Taylor, and filmmaker Mira Nair. What do these women have in common? All received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), a government-funded agency now more than a half-century old.
Operating under the banner “Because democracy demands wisdom,” the NEH provides funds to “cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars.” These funds help share photos depicting scenes from across an ocean and time (and art and artifacts from the North American continent too), bring books to life, engage young minds at the museum, disseminate knowledge to educators, and tell us what’s in the archives so we can find it later!
Even if you’re not a scholar, you may have come into contact with the NEH. It’s one of those things you might hear about on PBS (This programming is made possible by…). Personally, one of my favorite pieces of NEH work is “The Presidents” on PBS’s American Experience.
As a student, I have come across the work of or had some sort of connection to all the individuals I named above. Joan Kelly was one of the creators of the SLC Women’s History program. Alice Kessler-Harris, who once taught at SLC, was one of the women’s historians whose work I came across while browsing the library of the women’s center where I once worked. Joan Scott and Candacy Taylor’s works were among our readings in our first year as graduate students. Nell Painter presented the keynote address at our “Black Women in White America, Revisited,” conference this year. I wrote about one of Mira Nair’s projects in an undergraduate paper on women-directed films. It is exciting to think that NEH grants helped them on their way to success, on their way to students like us seeing their work and being inspired.
If you are a member of the American Historical Association (AHA) or a savvy observer of the news, you may have heard way back in January about imperiled funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Well, the President’s budget proposal is now out in the open, and the AHA has provided its analysis of the President’s proposal, which is basically to dissolve the NEH.
As a graduate student who wants my fellow classmates and my teachers to have opportunities for research and for the exhibition of their work to the public, I see the National Endowment for the Humanities as an important asset to this country. When grants that can, for example, help us protect our primary source documents or interpret history for tech–loving audiences are in danger, the professions to which many students aspire are also in danger. It’s important that we protect the NEH!
This article reflects the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sarah Lawrence College or the SLC Women’s History program.