Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1965 - 2015)

Message from the Director

As director of WSU’s Humanities Center, I am grateful for the opportunity to acknowledge the enormous importance of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and its sister organization the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), as they both celebrate their 50th anniversary during 2015. I thank Provost Margaret Winters for suggesting to me in November 2014 that our Humanities Center should commemorate the golden anniversary of the NEH; and I commend the Center’s Advisory Board for enthusiastically agreeing to the idea. To this end, the Center’s 2015 Faculty Fellows Conference was dedicated to the commemoration of the NEH’s 50th birthday. It was serendipitously appropriate that the conference theme was “Survival” since the NEH has been in the vanguard of the struggle for the survival of the humanities in the United States where priority for funding and education is accorded to science and technology. For this year’s Faculty Fellows Conference our Center was fortunate to be able to recruit Professor Paul Jay of Loyola University as our keynote speaker since among his many publications is a book on the survival of the humanities in the age of the corporate university. The Center also has been marking NEH’s 50th anniversary with a revolving banner on our Web site. We are also recognizing the NEH by using images from the NEH Website as graphics throughout this Annual Report.

The NEH and NEA were created in 1965 because it was recognized that the country needed such organizations to provide the funding, advocacy and prestige to the humanities and arts that would help these disciplines to continue to contribute centrally to our nation’s academic, philosophical and cultural health. The need for the NEH and NEA had been felt for many years before President Lyndon Johnson signed them into law on September 29, 1965 in the Rose Garden of the White House. Before that date, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Council of Graduate Schools in America and the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa had collaborated in establishing the National Commission on the Humanities to study the state of the humanities in America. The Commission reported in 1964 that our nation’s emphasis on science research and education was eclipsing the importance of the humanities in academic, public and cultural life in America, and recommended that our nation invest signifi cantly in supporting the humanities. President Johnson and other politicians of the day agreed, and the NEH and NEA were established formally in 1965 with an initial grant of 20 million dollars from the federal government.

From the outset, however, the NEH and the academic disciplines it represents have played second fi ddle to science. The National Science Foundation (NSF) was established in 1950, fi fteen years before the NEH, with strong bipartisan support in Congress and continues to enjoy that wide support. The NSF’s current annual budget is approximately $7 billion whereas the current budget of the NEH is approximately $150 million. The NEH’s budget has been in constant decline since it peaked at about $380 million in 1975. In contrast, the NSF’s budget has been steadily rising as Congress continues to see the need for more funds to fi nance science projects. Nonetheless, with the support of advocacy groups like the National Humanities Alliance, the NEH continues to lead and inspire humanities research and scholarship on university campuses like WSU. Thus, we are very pleased to dedicate this annual report to the celebration of the NEH’s 50th anniversary.

The mission of the NEH is to support outstanding scholars within humanistic disciplines (including Director, Walter F. Edwards 5 philosophy, history, languages, anthropology, literature, religion, religious studies) and to fund humanities institutions and programs that promote humanities scholarship and research. But the NEH has always had an interdisciplinary mission as well. That interdisciplinary characteristic is evident in the fact that the 1965 Rose Garden signing ceremony was witnessed by a group of outstanding scholars representing a whole range of humanistic disciplines. Present at that event were actor Gregory Peck, historian Dumas Malone, photographer Ansel Adams, writer Ralph Ellison, architect Walter Gropius and philanthropist Paul Mellon, among others.

The administrative structure of the NEH also reflects its interdisciplinary focus. The chairperson of the NEH is advised by the National Council of the Humanities, a body whose members are appointed by the President of the United States and ratifi ed by the Senate. This group of 26 private citizens typically represents a wide range of humanistic disciplines. The present Council, for instance, includes members whose disciplines are law, history, languages, literature, African American Studies, European studies and several other humanities and social science fi elds. These council members serve six-year staggered terms.

Wayne State University’s Humanities Center is a reflection of the values and experiences of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our Center was established in 1993 to epitomize this university’s commitment to the humanities and to provide funding to support excellent scholarship and research in humanities and related disciplines. The Center’s charter also enshrines its role in facilitating cross-disciplinary projects involving the humanities and the arts by requiring that the Center’s Director be advised by an Advisory Board comprising faculty from across the humanities and social sciences. In common with the NEH, The Center ensures academic excellence by subjecting all proposals submitted to its competitions to rigorous, impartial peer-review by members of its Advisory Board. In some cases, the Center requires supporting letters from outside reviewers. Over its 21 years of service to WSU, the Humanities Center has funded hundreds of faculty and student projects and has provided a venue for academic fellowship for humanities faculty and students. Our competitions, conferences and symposia have brought hundreds of scholars together from across many disciplines to present their ideas or research on a wide variety of interdisciplinary themes selected by our Advisory Board. All our programs are designed to elicit excellent thinking and research and to foster interdisciplinary fellowship. Like the NEH, we are constrained by a relatively slender annual budget. In our case we live on an annual budget of approximately $180,000 (derived from part of the interest on our endowment of approximately $5 million) to fund all our programming and cover personnel and equipment costs. But like the NEH, the Humanities Center is supported and encouraged by humanities and arts faculty and students and by senior administrators, especially those with humanistic academic backgrounds.

In the academic year 2014-15 WSU’s Humanities Center sponsored nine funded programs for faculty and students. This Annual Report summarizes the activities of these programs. I invite readers to review these narratives and to provide me or members of the Center’s Advisory Board with any feedback that would help us to improve our performance. It is my hope that readers will conclude that the Humanities Center has been a worthy representative of the NEH on this campus. We congratulate the NEH and NEA on achieving their 50th anniversary and thank these national organizations for their wonderful and invaluable contributions to the humanities and arts in this country.

Sincerely ,

Walter F. Edwards, D.Phil
Professor, English
Director, Humanities Center