The National Endowment for the Humanities is in danger of losing
its mission as the premier - and essential - source of support for
Under pressure from Congress, the NEH's shrinking resources are
going to more popular pursuits, such as movie-making, creation of
state encyclopedias (a hit on Capitol Hill), and establishment of
"popular culture" centers.
In the process, it is neglecting its core goal of the past 35
years: to support fundamental research, preserve scholarly
materials and the sources that document the American past, and
support educators who teach the humanities.
The United States leads the world in many areas of history,
literature, musicology, art criticism, philosophy, linguistics,
archaeology, history of science, and anthropology. That achievement
is now in peril.
In our own cases, well-timed grants were essential to our
intellectual development. A critical NEH collaborative grant
permitted Professor Rotberg to do research in South Africa and
Zimbabwe, and resulted in a large biography of Cecil Rhodes, the
diamond digger, imperialist, and scholarship provider.
Professor Howell's several grants from sources outside the NEH
(which are no longer available) enabled her to plumb difficult
archives in Western Europe and, after giving birth to twins, to
produce a major book on women and patriarchy in late medieval
None of Ken Burns's superb documentaries - "The Civil War,"
"Baseball," "Jazz" - could have been produced without the
underlying scholarship that comes from NEH support.
Compounding the problem, funding from private and university/
college sources for learning and preservation in the humanities is
In the 1995 fiscal year, the NEH's overall budget was $172
million and the portions devoted to nurturing scholarship and
preservation of research materials amounted to about $48 million.
That supported 218 year-long fellowships, about 193 summer grants,
modest sums for the microfilming of brittle newspapers, and
adequate monies for editing projects, including the cherished
editions of the Founding Fathers' papers.
In contrast, in the 2001 fiscal year, the endowment receives $120
million, and only $30 million is available for research, archival
preservation, and teacher development. That means only 176
fellowships, 130 summer stipends, big cuts in support for archival
preservation, and almost no funding for critical editing.
The numbers tell the story. …