To stimulate a rich dialogue informed by the best in humanities research and scholarly insight, NEH held an initial grant competition in 2010 and out of nearly one hundred applications, selected eight pilot projects at cultural and educational institutions around the country to bring together scholars and members of the public in discussions of two pressing national concerns – the role of civility in democracy and the need for a deeper understanding of the Muslim world.
These Bridging Cultures events, held during the first half of 2011 showcased the work of academics and public intellectuals through public forums on ideas ranging from “cyber civility” to Islamic intellectual history to the development of Western humanist and scientific thought.
Four of these forums took up theme of Civility and Democracy:
- “Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America,” National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- “Civility and Democracy in America,” Washington State University, Foley Institute, Spokane, Washington.
- “Democracy and the Culture of Civic Conversation,” organized by the California Council for the Humanities and hosted by the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, California. Building on this grant, the California Council for the Humanities created the program, “Searching for Democracy.”
- “Civility and Free Expression in a Constitutional Democracy,” American Bar Association’s 2011 National Law-Related Education Conference, Chicago, Illinois.
Four other Bridging Cultures forums examined various aspects of Muslim societies and the humanities:
- “Shared Cultural Spaces,” a colloquium exploring the influence of Islamic cultural and intellectual traditions on the development of Western humanist and scientific thought. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Watch a 30-minute documentary produced by Twin Cities Public Television.
- “The Legacy of Timbuktu: Wonders of the Written Word,” an exhibition and associated conference tracing the connections between the culture and history of Muslim West Africa, Mississippi, and the United States through an examination of literature, texts, and music, Tougaloo College, Jackson, Mississippi.
- “Beyond Golden Age and Decline: The Legacy of Muslim Societies in Global Modernity, 1300-1900,” George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia.
- “Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World,” City Lore and Poets House, New York City.
Each of the eight forums was accompanied by workshops in which experts were convened to create specific plans for using exhibits, library discussion groups, or other public programs to bring new ideas to communities across the nation. Expert input from state humanities councils was a key part of planning this public outreach in several of these projects. In the case of California Humanities, that state council took the lead in a broad collaboration with diverse community partners who engaged in dialogue about civility and democracy, while the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities incorporated books on Muslim cultures and histories into its annual Festival of the Book program.
Bridging Cultures is an agency-wide initiative, engages the power of the humanities to promote understanding and mutual respect for people with diverse histories, cultures, and perspectives within the United States and abroad.