CHC Receives NEH Chair’s Grant and American Academy of Arts & Sciences Co-sponsorship for “Humanities Communication” Strategizing Event

In March 2024, the Center for Humanities Communication (CHC) in partnership with its fiscal sponsor, the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) was awarded a NEH Chair’s Grant by Shelly C. Lowe, Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), to organize a “Humanities Communication Convening.”1 The American Academy of Arts & Sciences is partnering in the event by co-sponsoring and hosting it at its headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

To be scheduled in fall 2024, the “Humanities Communication Convening” will be a by-invitation meeting of leaders and advocates of the humanities together with experts in science communication, journalism, social media content creation, public relations, design, and other fields. The convening will focus on helping the humanities learn from other areas of effective public engagement (such as “science communication”) how to develop robust, structured, and professionally recognized training and resources for “humanities communicators.”

The event’s mission is stated in the CHC and AAC&U’s grant proposal to the NEH as follows:

Humanities scholars and advocates are aware of the urgent need today to communicate both the substance and value of the humanities to society–including to such sectors crucial to the future of the humanities as young people from diverse backgrounds, and audiences of all ages absorbing their most meaningful cultural experiences from new media, social media, and other non-traditional forms. But humanities scholars and advocates also recognize with humility how much they do not know professionally about other fields that effectively address society such as science communication, journalism, social media content creation, public relations, and design. For example, though the Center for Humanities Communication has begun researching the traditions, methods, organizations, curricula, and scholarship of science communication (see CHC Bibliography under Related: Science Communication) and has included on its team a scholar (Professor Anke Finger, U. Connecticut–Storrs) serving as liaison to the science-communication research and teaching community, it knows how much it has to learn simply from meeting and talking directly to people experienced in science communication and other fields. A NEH Chair’s Grant for a “Humanities Communication Convening” will be foundational not just for the AAC&U and CHC but also the humanities broadly in advancing the ideas and strategies needed to better communicate the humanities.

One of the main goals of the convening is intellectual. With the aid of invited outside experts across fields, the convening will formulate a well-defined concept of “humanities communication” in relation to other areas of public communication assisted by professional communicators such as science communication. Humanities communication, we know, is not just the same as scholarship or teaching. Nor need it be exactly the same as science communication, journalism, public relations, or social media content creation per se. So what conceptually should humanities communication be and do? Who can be effective “humanities communicators” in society today? What are specific audiences in society that the humanities need to communicate with? And for those audiences, how can the humanities communicate its work in the most effective media and forms?

The other main goal of the “Humanities Communication Convening” is to apply the combined expertise of humanities advocates and those from other public-facing fields to strategize the training programs, shared resources, and professional recognition needed to develop and support effective humanities communicators (including humanities students and early-career scholars who would benefit from an additional professionalization and job placement pipeline similar to that which science-communication programs provide for scientists in training). This goal is in essence to create a high-level “five-year plan” for intellectual, professional, and technical next steps in building a support structure for humanities communicators. Such a plan benefits not only the AAC&U and CHC but other humanities organizations in guiding their future development. In concrete terms, such a plan will guide the AAC&U, CHC, and other humanities organizations or initiatives in seeking next-stage seed grants and implementation grants to develop effective public humanities communication.

Organization and scheduling of the “Humanities Communication Convening” event are underway. The organizers are Alan Liu and Christine Henseler (co-Presidents of the CHC) with Kath Burton, Anke Finger, and Isabell Sluka on the CHC leadership team. Generously lending their assistance in organization is Robert B. Townsend, Program Director for Humanities, Arts, and Culture at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (a member of the CHC’s Advisory Board) and the events team at the American Academy.

  1. The NEH Chair’s Grant was awarded to the AAC&U acting as the CHC’s fiscal sponsor and partner. As per the NEH’s policy, “any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations [to be] expressed in the event to be organized do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.” The National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. ↩︎

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