Issues in Philosophy Humanities Advocacy Day '18: An interview with Stephen Kidd and Beatrice Gurwitz

Humanities Advocacy Day ’18: An interview with Stephen Kidd and Beatrice Gurwitz

National Humanities Advocacy Day (HAD) took place on Tuesday, March 13 after a stimulating meeting of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) the day before. Advocates from around the country came to Washington to meet with legislators and their staff about the importance of the humanities. Prior to the day, I corresponded with Executive Director of the NHA Stephen Kidd and Deputy Director of the NHA Beatrice Gurwitz about the importance of HAD, how it is organized, and what members of humanities disciplines can do to support it.

What is the purpose and history of National Humanities Advocacy Day?

Humanities Advocacy Day was started in 2007 to mobilize advocates to come to Washington, D.C. to make the case for the value of federal funding for the humanities to Members of Congress. Since that time, Humanities Advocacy Day has grown to a two-and-a-half day event that includes the National Humanities Alliance Annual Meeting. In addition to preparing delegations by state for Capitol Hill advocacy, the meeting now also explores year-round advocacy for the humanities on college campuses and in communities around the country. In order to maximize the impact of Humanities Advocacy Day, we also coordinate an electronic message campaign that allows advocates who are unable to travel to Washington to voice their support for humanities funding as our delegations are visiting Capitol Hill offices.

Please talk a little about the organizing that goes into HAD, and what is needed to make the event successful.

The success of Humanities Advocacy Day rests on the advocates who travel to Washington. As constituents and experts in their own work and the ways in which the humanities benefit their communities, they have the unique ability to build support on Capitol Hill. Reliably, advocates leave Washington energized and optimistic about the possibility of increasing support for the humanities. To prepare advocates for their meetings, we produce training videos, a print advocacy guide, and briefing sheets for each office with with they will meet. We also provide a training session during the Annual Meeting portion of the event, and pair first-time advocates with those who are more experienced.

What is your assessment of the status of the humanities in the current political climate?

While federal funding for the humanities is under attack by the Trump administration, which has called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Title VI and Fulbright-Hays (the international education programs of the Department of Education), the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, support in Congress for these programs has been building. Last year, with a similar threat issued by the administration, Congress voted to provide almost all of these programs with level or near level funding. This year, we are looking to build on this bipartisan support to push for increased funding.

The overall of the humanities in the current political climate is somewhat more complicated. A Pew study out last January revealed a growing distrust of higher education among conservatives. At least some of the distrust is rooted in  perceptions, or misperceptions, more accurately, of the humanities. Many doubt the value of studying the humanities as an undergrad, and point, incorrectly, to a poor return on investment. Also feeding this distrust is the targeting of of humanities faculty by sensationalist media outlets, framing their research as biased or frivolous. Two of NHA’s initiatives, NEH for All and Humanities for All, are directed at broadening narratives surround the humanities through specific examples of humanities research and projects that serve a concrete, social good.

What has the reaction to HAD been in Washington, in academia, and among the public at large?

Humanities Advocacy Day most often enjoys an enthusiastic reception on Capitol Hill where Members of Congress and staff members appreciate hearing about work that is having positive impacts on their districts. Sometimes advocates will encounter staff members who are skeptical of the federal role in supporting the humanities, but even then, most will understand the value of the humanities more broadly.

In recent years, we have seen academia embrace advocacy for both federal funding for the humanities and the humanities more broadly. There seems to be a growing realization that we need to come together to make the case for the humanities to a variety of audiences, and that this needs to be an ongoing effort.

A broader public interacts with Humanities Advocacy Day through our action alert electronic message campaigns and through social media. We encourage everyone to share our advocacy resources with their personal and professional networks. This has helped expand our reach to communities in every state.

What can people who couldn’t be there on HAD do in the future?

Those who wish to advocate, but couldn’t make it to Washington, can sign up for our mailing list at nhalliance.org. Once they sign up, we will alert them when their voice can have an impact on funding debates in Washington. They can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook, which will help us reach more advocates. We also released a local advocacy guide just before this year’s Humanities Advocacy Day. This guide can help advocates connect with the district offices of their Members of Congress so that they can build support year round.

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