Description of Center for Humanities Communication Included in 2024 Grant Proposal to NEH

During its launch phase, the Center for Humanities Communication (CHC) in partnership with its fiscal sponsor, the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) was awarded in March 2024 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 partnered in the event by co-sponsoring and hosting it at its headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (See CHC blog post for more information.)

The appendix in the CHC’s proposal for the NEH Chair’s Grant described the CHC as follows:

The need for inspiring, public-facing communicators of the humanities who can effectively engage a wider public to promote the benefits of the humanities has never been more pressing. While less familiar as a role than “author,” “scholar,” or “educator” (traditionally associated in the media with the humanities), humanities communicator is how the organizers of the new Center for Humanities Communication (CHC) think of the humanities role that needs additional support and resources. This is because the CHC is inspired by analogy with the established, publicly effective role of “science writers” and others in the field of “science communication” (SciComm). Science communication from the nineteenth century on–and especially after such formulations of it as the so-called Bodmer report (1985) and Jenkin report (2000) in the U.K.2–has complemented training in the sciences with the preparation of science writers and other communicators for public-facing roles in media and organizations where they bring forward the discoveries and value of science to society.

Taking its lesson from science communication–but also cautiously aware that communicating the public significance of the humanities has its own set of challenges–the CHC was started to provide a professional framework for training humanities communicators and a shared set of digital and other resources to enhance the work of such communicators.

Of course, the CHC recognizes that there are already many talented humanities communicators, including scholars as well as students, staff at universities and humanities organizations or foundations, writers for magazines (including, for example, university alumni magazines), and others spread out across a broad range of institutions, social sectors, and jobs. One talent pool of special concern consists of humanities graduate students and early-career scholars who train for academic positions but would benefit from alternative career opportunities in public humanities organizations (such as in the “GLAM” galleries, libraries, archives, and museums sector), foundations or grant agencies, media and new media companies, non-profits and NGOs, and other kinds of organizations. Another talent pool to tend with special care is that of young people from diverse backgrounds whose interests in media, popular culture, and causes of social concern might be steered toward engagement with the humanities (e.g., through internships in social-media content creation and social-media management for community humanities initiatives). And yet another talent pool to attend to as society demographically ages is that of elders and retirees with a passion for the humanities who might be thrilled to help mentor young people training in humanities communication.

But what the CHC believes is needed is a structured framework and a shared set of resources for this broad, and currently underserved, network of humanities communicators to work together in a publicly and professionally recognized sphere of activity. To create this framework and set of resources, The CHC plans to build two interconnected programs that mutually support one another:

  • A Humanities Communication Program [subsequently named “Humanities Communication Training Institute,” or HumComm] that trains and mentors a network of humanities scholars, students, and leaders from diverse fields, ages, and groups (including young people from socially diverse and first-generation-to-college or immigrant groups not traditionally associated with humanities education). The goal of the program is to provide certification programs, workshops, courses, learning modules, and guides and resources in three main ways:

    • general workshops led by experts on a variety of subjects related to humanities communication practices across diverse media platforms and audiences; 

    • a scholars program of workshops, modules, and guides for humanities students, faculty, and independent scholars who wish to share the results of their research to a broad and diverse audience;

    • and an “influencer” internship program for young people interested in learning to produce and manage creative content related to the humanities for social media campaigns on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, or Instagram.

  • A Humanities Digital Clearinghouse and Showcase [subsequently named “Humanities Communication Interchange,” or HumSource] that will consist of a growing, digitally sustainable national repository of open-access humanities advocacy and communications materials built on FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable) principles. The clearinghouse will be implemented through standards, templates, and linked open data; and will include ready to use examples of materials that can be customized to the needs of individuals and organizations. The goal of the clearinghouse and showcase is to allow humanities initiatives or organizations at all levels–from those of individual communities or institutions to national organizations and foundations–to share materials, templates, and examples. On its website, the CHC has started a bibliography of the kinds of materials such a clearinghouse might hold, including resources under such categories as “Talking Points on the Humanities: Definitions, Values, Contributions”; “Training for Humanities Communicators: Programs, Workshops, Fellowships, Internships”; and “Methods for Humanities Communication.”

  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.
  2. Walter Bodmer et al., “The Public Understanding of Science,” Report of a Royal Society Ad Hoc Group Endorsed by the Council of the Royal Society (London: Royal Society, 1985); Lord Jenkin of Roding et al., “Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report” (London: Parliament, 2000). ↩︎