Letter from the Director

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A year of battling the pandemic and addressing its social, economic, and political upheavals may make it tempting to diminish the humanities as “non-essential,” a luxury reserved solely for times of peace and prosperity. But especially in times of uncertainty and rebuilding, the humanities are vital to maintaining our nation’s democratic values, institutions, and way of life.

I can think of two times the United States has invested expressly and substantively in the humanities, both during times of national crisis and peril. Amid the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration hired hundreds of out-of-work writers to record oral histories, including the stories of the last generation of formerly enslaved Black Americans. This archive has become central to our understanding of American history as the current generation revisits the nation’s legacies of slavery and racism.

At the height of the Cold War, in response to threats to democracy around the globe, Congress founded the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Although defense and scientific research were also prioritized, Congress generously funded the NEH with the insight that “Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens.” Since its inception, the NEH has supported humanities education at the K-12 and higher education levels and infused the public humanities into Americans’ daily lives through state councils like Humanities Montana.

The humanities help us glean who we are and what we aspire to as individuals and a nation. As deliberations about funding priorities fill the headlines this month, consider the role of the humanities in enriching your life, your community, and our democracy.

Randi Lynn Tanglen, Ph.D.
Executive Director