CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, William Adams, will speak on the University of Illinois campus on Oct. 29 as part of events marking the 50th anniversary of the NEH.
Adams’ speech, “The Common Good and NEH at 50,” will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Knight Auditorium at Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., Urbana. The event is free and open to the public, and a reception will follow. Adams’ visit is co-sponsored by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, the U. of I. Office of the Provost and Spurlock Museum.
“We have outstanding humanities scholarship at Illinois,” said Interim Provost Edward Feser. “The work of humanities scholars is often happening quietly, and I hope William Adams’ visit provides an opportunity to not only highlight the quality and significance of what our humanities scholars are doing, but also the significance of humanities teaching and research for preparing students to be future citizens, regardless of their disciplines. So many of the big challenges we face require the kinds of thought and introspection that are core to what we do in humanities teaching and research.”
Funding from NEH for humanities scholars is the equivalent of funding from the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health for scientists, said Antoinette Burton, interim director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.
“It’s every bit as competitive,” she said.
“What’s impressive about Illinois’ participation in (NEH-funded projects) is we’ve been on the ground floor since 1965,” Burton said. “The range of awards tells us a lot about what a rich place Illinois has been in terms of traditional humanities thinking, but also interdisciplinary projects.”
Burton said funding has supported individual scholarly projects on campus, as well as enhancing the collections and providing climate-controlled archival conservation for the U. of I. Library and Krannert Art Museum.
“There’s no question that part of the reputation of Illinois for humanities excellence can be chalked up to 50 years of support by the NEH,” she said.
The money provided through NEH fellowships allows scholars time away from teaching to do in-depth research and work on projects.
“In humanities scholarship, focused time by the individual scholar is the coin of the realm,” Feser said. “They don’t have a research team. They have a very different scholarship model in the humanities and arts than they do in the sciences. The key thing they need is time. The support they get from (NEH) fellowships is critical for them.”
As part of the campus’ recognition of the 50th anniversary of the NEH, the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities will produce an online exhibition and a print brochure highlighting the 50-year history of NEH grants at Illinois. It is also hosting a series of panel discussions, titled “Questions in Common@Illinois,” aimed to encourage conversation and dialogue – which Burton calls "one of humanists’ major forms of experimentation and interpretive energy.” The discussions include “What Do You See When You See a Cell Phone?” on Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. in the IPRH Lecture Hall at Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St., Urbana. Ten people from the community will each speak for six minutes about what they see when they look at a cellphone.
While on campus, Adams will visit the new Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education, which provides services to student veterans with disabilities; the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which provides classes, lectures and activities to area residents who are members; and the Odyssey Project, which provides humanities courses to students in the community who are at or near the poverty line.
Adams also will meet with senior administrators, legislators and NEH grant recipients.
In its 50-year history, the NEH has provided more than 63,000 grants totaling $5.3 billion. The funding led to the discovery of a lost fort at Jamestown, created the first King Tut museum exhibit, preserved the papers of 10 presidents including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and invested in the early career of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.