April 2015 – Notes From the Inside: Advocacy

I have just returned from the annual meeting of the National Humanities Alliance and the NHA-sponsored Humanities Advocacy Day in Washington DC. Since we have identified advocacy as a priority in the HSS Strategic Plan (see Angela’s message above), I want to share with you some highlights from these events and the palpable excitement at NHA.

This excitement arises from a complete reorganization of NHA engineered by its director Stephen Kidd. Created in 1981, the NHA is an advocacy coalition dedicated to the advancement of humanities education, research, preservation, and public programs in the US. NHA receives support from more than one hundred national, state, and local member organizations and institutions, including scholarly and professional associations (HSS is a supporter).

Among the many initiatives at NHA is the Humanities Working Group for Community Impact, made possible by a grant from the Whiting Foundation. In developing their proposal for the Whiting Foundation, NHA identified over 35,000 humanities organizations in the US. NHA aims to promote interchange among these groups, among their publics, and among elected officials and thereby strengthen and expand support for the humanities by showcasing the impact that humanities organizations achieve at the local level. In a selected community for each state, the Initiative will gather representatives of organizations such as humanities councils, colleges, universities, museums, libraries, historical societies, and archives to identify the key issues facing their communities, and to explore the ways that humanities institutions can address these issues.

The highlight of the trip, though, was the opportunity to visit legislative aides on Capitol Hill and make the case for support of the humanities. Specifically, I asked for full funding levels for the National Endowment for the Humanities, for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, for libraries and museums, for graduate students, for the Library of Congress and for the Minerva Research Initiative. My visits included senatorial offices for Indiana and Mississippi, as well as the office of my district’s congresswoman in the House of Representatives.

And here I would like to make a special plea to our members to forge a relationship with the science advisors in their representatives’ offices—but before you do so, please consult the excellent guide provided by the NHA. My congresswoman, who was elected in the Tea Party wave a few years ago, includes on her staff a young woman who holds a PhD in microbiology, and who is a product of AAAS’s science and technology policy fellowships. She and I discussed science, the interplay of science and the humanities, and the important questions that the humanities can answer and that the sciences cannot. I delighted in the visit and told her not to hesitate to call on me for help in understanding science’s historical context.

As many have said before, challenges, such as climate change, will not give way to engineered solutions. As historians of science we can offer these advisors the context that is so needed in these types of debates. We are best positioned to clarify the position stated recently by our own Naomi Oreskes, viz. that uncertainty is intrinsic to science but just because we don’t know everything, does not mean we know nothing.

Finally, I would like to extend a special thank you to Vicky Harden, our Washington Representative, who attended the NHA meeting, as well as the Consortium of Social Science Associations’ meeting the week before. I deeply appreciate her advocacy efforts on behalf of the HSS and the discipline.

And thank you for your membership.

Jay Malone
Executive Director

Back to April 2015 Newsletter