American Council of Learned Societies
Occasional Paper No. 11

National Task Force
on Scholarship and
the Public Humanities


Making Connections: The Humanities, Culture and Community
by James Quay and James Veninga

Rapporteur’s Summary of the Wingspread Conference
by Michael M. Sokal


Recommendations of the Task Force

The deliberations of the ACLS/Federation Task Force produced a number of suggestions for activities. They apply alike to national, regional, and state groups, learned societies, humanities councils, and others who seek to advance scholarship and the public humanities.

The Task Force was asked to be as concrete as possible in their discussions, both in identifying needs and in recommending action. A quick review of what they accomplished will reveal no budget-busting proposals; indeed much of what is proposed involves more a commitment of time than of money.

The proposals can be grouped roughly into five categories: data gathering and information, relations between the academy and the public, cooperation between humanities councils and learned societies, scholarly participation in public programs, and strategic collaboration among education groups for accomplishing common goals. While some of the activities listed below are being carried out jointly by the Federation and the ACLS, they are offered to individuals as well as to institutions in the spirit of continuing the discussion and encouraging action by others.

  1. Collect data and disseminate information to build support for, and encourage participation in, public humanities scholarship
    1. Survey and determine how varying institutions have encouraged and rewarded scholarly involvement with out-of-classroom audiences
    2. Determine how the operation of the reward system in higher education operates in different types of institutions
    3. Determine what methods are being used to identify scholars for public humanities programs in the states; determine whether surveys have been or are being done to evaluate the impact that public involvement has on scholarship
    4. Accumulate case studies of humanities in action: projects that demonstrate the difference that humanities can make in a community
    5. Develop “field guides” for humanities scholars on how to “get involved” in public programs in media, museums, and other forums, and appropriate roles for scholars
    6. Identify resource people in the humanities who can serve as contacts/experts for media

  2. Strengthen ties between humanities scholarship and the public
    1. Urge state humanities councils to conduct statewide or regional “future visions” conferences that use the perspectives of the humanities to help chart twenty-first century growth and change in the states
    2. Undertake/encourage teacher training humanities seminars nationwide linking schools with universities
    3. Collaborate with national organizations like the Kettering Foundation to explore ways of bringing the humanities to bear on public policy questions
    4. Encourage creation of public humanities centers that help demonstrate the “permeable wall” between scholarship and the public
    5. Collaborate with public television and radio to produce humanities programs and feature stories for national airing
    6. Create a national database of resources, events, etc. for museums, schools, media — a service bureau of the public humanities
    7. Work with service clubs to incorporate public humanities scholarship into their meetings
    8. Publish a national humanities magazine equivalent to Scientific American

  3. Facilitate information exchange between councils and learned societies in support of public humanities scholarship
    1. Distribute directory of humanities councils through ACLS that includes information on special initiatives, goals, and funding cycles for each humanities council
    2. Encourage learned societies to dedicate one or more sessions at their national conferences to public audiences; inform learned societies of funding opportunities through humanities councils
    3. Encourage learned societies to sponsor sessions at national conferences with humanities councils on the role of the scholar in society
    4. Publish inserts on public programs in various learned society newsletters; provide deadlines for grants, competitions, etc.
    5. Highlight in newsletters of learned societies and elsewhere public humanities activities that demonstrate the value of scholarship to the public
    6. Invite learned society members to check-off on dues forms their interest in taking part in public humanities programs
    7. Identify members of humanities council boards by discipline and circulate to learned societies

  4. Develop policy and mission statements that endorse the value of public humanities scholarship to the profession and the nation; amend fellowship awards to include programming possibilities
    1. Develop and publicize a position statement endorsed by the ACLS and the Federation that recognizes public humanities activities by scholars as worthy of recognition and honor
    2. Develop and publicize a position statement endorsed by the ACLS and the Federation that describes the various ways in which scholars participate in public humanities programs, and recognizes that participation as an important professional activity that contributes to the life of community, advances public understanding, and supports the mission of higher education institutions
    3. Develop a systematic way of evaluating scholarly contributions in public programs
    4. Urge fellowship-granting organizations in the humanities to encourage public programming activity by fellowship recipients

  5. Gain recognition for public humanities scholarship
    1. Encourage museums to give prominent credit in the body of an exhibit to scholars contributing to the development of the exhibit
    2. Encourage learned journals to review exhibits and films
    3. Urge presidents and deans to recognize and honor the public contributions of humanities faculty
    4. Urge learned societies to recognize scholarly achievement, by means of annual awards or prizes, in the fields of museum exhibition and documentary filmmaking

  6. Win support for public humanities scholarship through strategic collaborations with state, regional, and national groups
    1. Establish a permanent liaison between the Federation and the ACLS
    2. Enlist support of higher education membership associations for public humanities scholarship
    3. Encourage the Council on Graduate Schools to recognize the value of public involvement of scholars; encourage recognition of public involvement as an aspect of graduate training
    4. Work with the Council on Foundations to urge the creation of a humanities constituency group
    5. Cooperate with cultural advisors to governors to encourage creation of such offices at the state level, and to promote cultural awareness by state government
    6. Work with regional membership organizations to build bridges between scholars, humanities councils, and the public
    7. Work with organizations of independent scholars and “public scholars” such as archaeologists and historians, to broaden academic participation in public humanities programs; explore opportunities for collaboration
    8. Develop a model of collaboration through a joint project involving schools, learned societies, and humanities councils