If you have ever listened to a story and laughed, cried, learned or wanted to know more about the storyteller, then you experienced a humanities moment.
The humanities – the study of literature, history, art, music, philosophy and other fields – document, examine and celebrate human experience through stories about cultural heritage, history, community, religion and shared struggles and achievements. They enable us to better understand ourselves, our world and each other.
A tiny percentage of tax dollars – 0.003 percent of the federal budget – goes to the public humanities. Some may ask why so little support, while others ask why any at all? Given the pressing needs of our nation, both are fair questions.
The answer dates to 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act into law, establishing the National Endowment for the Humanities, or NEH. The bill was the culmination of a movement calling for the government to invest in American culture, just as it had with science and medical research.
The idea was to make the humanities accessible to every American, not just those who could afford admission to a museum, lecture or concert, or travel to another state or country. It was built on the notion that a part of tax dollars might be reasonably spent giving voice to people who were sometimes not heard or seen, while also opening to everyone those windows of experience that lead to knowledge.
Making the humanities accessible is an example of a government initiative working as intended. Today, NEH-funded events and programs reach more than 5,300 rural, suburban and urban communities annually. In 2016, more than 40 million people attended some public humanities event, and some 120 million participated virtually.
Part of NEH funding goes to programming at the grassroots level through affiliated state humanities councils such as the North Carolina Humanities Council, a…