Carnegie Mellon University

Image of humanities advocates in front of the U.S. Capitol

March 27, 2018

Humanities Advocates Take to the Hill

By Shilo Rea

Shilo Rea
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Studies
  • 412-268-6094

Carnegie Mellon University faculty David Shumway and Christopher Warren were among the more than 200 members of the National Humanities Alliance who recently met in Washington, D.C., to urge support for federally funded humanities programs.

"Since its founding, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has received support from presidents of both parties, but the two most recent budgets from the White House have proposed eliminating the NEH," said Warren, associate professor of English in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "The NEH is the only entity, federal or private, with a national mandate to ensure all Americans have access to the humanities. In some fundamental ways, my scholarship, my career, my patterns of thought, my most basic ways of making meaning in the world, would not be what they are without the NEH, and I feel bound to do my part to advocate for its survival."

Shumway, professor of English and director of CMU's Humanities Center, and Warren attended the alliance's annual meeting and Humanities Advocacy Day. Their involvement highlights CMU's strong standing in the humanities. CMU Faculty and students in the departments of English, History, Modern Languages and Philosophy focus on teaching and gaining deep intellectual knowledge as well as developing useful, practical skills.

Warren and Shumway's advocacy seems to have worked. On March 21, congress released their spending deal, which includes $3 million in increased NEH funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2018 and other increases for humanities-related initiatives and programs. One of Warren's projects, Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, received NEH funding. The interactive online tool allows anyone to trace the personal relationships among figures like Bacon, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton and many others.

"Six Degrees wouldn't be what it is without the NEH," Warren said. "In the last year alone, Six Degrees has enriched its data, enhanced users' experience, integrated with other digital resources, identified and partnered with institutional homes for long-term preservation and packaged and distributed website code so that scholars can create similar networks for different eras and regions."

Shumway spoke about the importance of the NEH Challenge Grant that the Humanities Center received in 2005, which provided it with its endowment.

"Without this grant, it is very likely that the center would not have continued to exist," Shumway said. "Because of it, we are able to support not only the humanities on campus, but also to make the humanities available to the general public through the Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival and the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival."

Shumway also talked about the value of Fulbright/Hays programs, which enable international exchange for faculty, graduate students and recent college graduates. As a Fulbright Fellow, Shumway taught in Spain in 2013.

"Our hope is that our congressional delegation will recognize the value of the NEH and Fulbright/Hays, and support the funding of these programs," Shumway said. "They represent a tiny portion of the federal budget, but they generate great return on the investment."

Read more about the advocacy in D.C.