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NHA Quarterly Column: Documenting the Impact and Reach of the NEH

by Cecily Hill | May 08, 2019

The latest NHA Quarterly Column offers an overview of the NEH for All initiative. Begun in 2017 in the wake of the Trump administration's efforts to defund the NEH, this initiative has charted new approaches to documenting the impact of the NEH in ways that are compelling to policymakers and other stakeholders.  


In 2017, in response to the Trump administration’s threat to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Alliance launched the NEH for All initiative. With generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, NEH for All is documenting the impact of NEH funding and telling the story of the NEH’s impact in ways that are compelling to policymakers and other stakeholders.

How do we explain the impact of a discussion program for veterans, a research project, a preservation workshop, or an archival collection? What effect does NEH funding have on communities, organizations, and individuals? Our first goal was to convey the impact of NEH funding through short, to-the-point narratives that explored both the direct and indirect benefits of humanities work. On NEHforAll.org, more than 160 profiles covering individual projects and organizations in every state showcase just how this work is being accomplished. They also showcase a broad range of humanities institutions and types of work. The site features public humanities initiatives, research projects, historical sites, digitization projects, exhibitions, community conversations, and preservation and conservation programs. It highlights the work of universities, libraries, state and local historical societies, humanities centers, museums, and living history organizations.

Importantly, we are also working to demonstrate the broad impact of humanities research by tracing its rippling effects on policy, school classrooms, museum exhibitions, and film and television—in short, on public conversations and ways of knowing. NEHforAll.org already includes many examples of humanities research that has had an impact both inside and outside of the academy, from Robert Baker and Laurence McCullough’s Cambridge World History of Medical Ethics, to Patricia Crown’s archaeological discoveries in Chaco Canyon.Our work over the next year will be to continue demonstrating this impact, producing new case studies and uncovering the processes by which scholarly works become part of our national discourse.

We are also partnering with current NEH grantees to survey participants, collecting data about the impact of humanities programs and why people value them. And by gathering geographic data on the NEH’s regranting programs and professional development programs, we are mapping the agency’s national impact.

Many NEH-funded programs have impacts that extend far beyond the geographic location of the initial grantee. NEH on the Road exhibitions travel the country; the American Library Association's Great Stories Club provides reading and discussion programs for at-risk youth in every state; educators and conservators alike travel to participate in professional development programs. Over the last year, NHA has compiled data and created interactive maps that document this impact. Now visitors to the site can see that participants in NEH professional development programs for K-12 educators come from every region of the country. They can learn where preservation education programs, public dialogues, and NEH on the Road exhibitions have taken place. And they can zoom in on their hometown to find newspapers that have been digitized by the Chronicling America initiative, which is digitizing the nation’s historical newspapers in partnership with the Library of Congress. These data effectively demonstrate that NEH funding extends far beyond big cities or college towns—it reaches even the most rural areas of the country.

And while the impetus behind the project is to showcase how the NEH has an impact, in practice we are also developing methods for highlighting the humanities’ contributions to our communities more broadly. We encourage you to visit NEHforAll.org, to avail yourself of its resources when communicating with policymakers and stakeholders—as well as to stay tuned to new developments. Over the next year, we will be releasing still more information about the humanities’ impact as well as models for evaluating and presenting your own impact.

Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.

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for its operating support.
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