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Blog Post

Updates from Humanities for All

By Michelle May-Curry, National Humanities Alliance
March 29, 2022
Updates from *Humanities for All*

For those who have watched Humanities for All grow and evolve since its inception in 2018, you may have noticed that this past year has brought a number of new directions for the initiative. Originally, Humanities for All as a website existed to highlight and catalog exemplary publicly engaged humanities teaching, research, programming, and infracture, offering synthetic insights across projects through a number of teachable essays. Since 2018, interest in the field has grown among students and faculty seeking new training, funders seeking innovative work, and community members seeking higher ed collaborators. As a result, Humanities for All has also grown to meet these needs.

These new directions include creating mixed-methods research tools to measure the impact of publicly engaged projects; building virtual gathering spaces for public humanities practitioners; supporting the publication of public humanities scholarship; and welcoming opportunities for consultation with higher ed institutions interested in building their capacity to do and support the public humanities. Read on below to learn a bit more about each of these new efforts. If you are interested in learning more about this work and how to collaborate with us, please reach out to me via email at mmaycurry@nhalliance.org.

Creating meaningful public humanities impact assessment tools

Over the last year, we have collaborated with several colleges and universities to gather evidence of the impact of public humanities initiatives on faculty, students, community members, and partnering organizations. Through these ongoing relationships, we have supported faculty and administrators’ efforts to gain recognition and funding for their initiatives, and we have gathered evidence of the significant role that public humanities initiatives can play in building trust between universities and their local and regional communities. Led predominantly by Research Associate Younger Oliver, these collaborative research partnerships have included the development of surveys, focus groups, and interview protocols for engaged classes, internship programs, individual engaged projects, and multi-year grant funded programs. You can read more about some of these research partnerships on the National Humanities Alliance blog, including insights into our collaborations with Wayne State Humanities Clinic, George Washington University’s East Asian Studies partnership with Spelman College, and the Council of Independent Colleges’ Humanities Research for the Public Good Grants.

Humanities for All also uses survey research to get a big-picture view of the state of the public humanities across higher ed. This fall, our Survey of Public Humanities Projects and Infrastructure was distributed to higher ed institutions across the country. This large-scale surveying effort collected publicly engaged humanities projects (including experiential learning and other high-impact humanities initiatives) and asked about the campus-based infrastructure that supports this work. Based on this research, Humanities for All is producing a report that offers approaches to building public humanities infrastructure based on models from U.S higher education institutions. The report will describe approaches to training, funding, and providing types of non-financial support to public humanists on campuses. The report will also demonstrate how higher ed-based public humanities infrastructure can partner with community based organizations and scholars in pursuing their pressing questions. Rather than further instantiate the academy as the sole place where rigorous humanities scholarship can take place, this report will emphasize that by helping students and faculty partner with ongoing initiatives in their local and regional communities, higher ed-based public humanities initiatives can help universities meet communities’ most pressing needs.

Nurturing virtual communities of practice

As many who browse sites such as Twitter, Substack, and H-Commons know, public humanists stay connected to their peers across higher ed and in their local and regional communities by spreading the word about their work far and wide across the internet. While these virtual communities create pockets of support outside of scholars’ and practitioners’ home institutions, Humanities for All still remains one of the few corners of the internet dedicated to higher ed-based public humanities work.

Given that there are few places where those interested in the public humanities can come together across disciplines, we have recently created a number of virtual spaces to continue connecting the ever-growing public humanities community, including the Humanities for All blog in 2020. In January 2022 we also launched the Public Humanities Newsletter. On the first Wednesday of each month, we share higher ed-based public humanities news including (but not limited to): calls for proposals, upcoming events and institutes, publication news, and employment and funding opportunities related to higher ed-based public humanities. To receive the newsletter in your email inbox please consider subscribing (for free!). Have something you’d want to see highlighted? Submit relevant items for consideration for future newsletters.

During the winter of 2021–2022, we also hosted a four-part webinar series designed to support students, faculty, and administrators in launching, teaching, scaling up, and documenting the impact of public humanities work in higher ed. Panelists from a range of institutions and community partner organizations shared how they built successful programs and distilled lessons learned along the way. Recordings of each event are available on the NHA’s Youtube channel.

Publishing in the public humanities

One of the most common hurdles of public humanities work is its lack of support and recognition from departments within tenure and review processes that are focused on scholarly publications. Engaged scholars often cite a dearth of publications that publish public humanities writing. Further, those journals that do feature writing related to public humanities work are often regarded as lower-status by tenure and review committees. As a result, faculty and graduate students interested in gaining training in community-engaged methods have few published texts to turn to as resources.

In order to address these intertwined needs, NHA Research Affiliate and former Humanities for All project director Daniel Fisher-Livne and I are working on an edited volume under contract at Routledge titled The Routledge Companion to Publicly Engaged Humanities Scholarship. The edited volume builds on the networks formed through the Humanities for All initiative and uses case studies to showcase publicly engaged humanities at the intersection of higher education and community partnership. This companion will present wide-ranging, practice-based essays that explore the history, concepts, and possible futures of publicly engaged humanities scholarship in the United States. It ultimately aims to provide an important publication for the chapter authors and a unique resource for faculty and students wishing to learn more about public humanities methods.

Consulting on the creation of public humanities initiatives across higher ed

Given our growing commitment to helping institutions build an infrastructure that will support public humanities work, our initiative has recently seen an increase in requests from faculty and administrators to serve in a consulting capacity as they work to create public humanities centers, certificates, open access publications, and internship programs. These conversations, presentations, and workshops have been particularly interesting as the same concerns are echoed across institutions: lack of internal funding and staff; lack of buy-in from faculty or administrators; a need to equip graduate students with new skill sets as they face an increasingly tight job market; and a unanimous desire to harness the tools of the humanities to meet the evolving needs of an increasingly polarized American society.

If you are interested in Humanities for All serving in this capacity at your institution, please reach out with any points of collaboration.

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