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Humanities in the Public Square

Division of Public Programs

Receipt Deadline June 24, 2015 for Projects Beginning January 2016

The deadline for this program has passed.

Updated guidelines will be posted in advance of the next deadline. In the meantime, please use these guidelines to get a sense of what is involved in assembling an application.

Brief Summary

The Humanities in the Public Square program supports scholarly forums, public discussions, and educational resources related to the themes of a new NEH initiative, The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square.

Designed to demonstrate the vital role that humanities ideas can play in our civic life, the Humanities in the Public Square program invites projects that draw on humanities scholarship to engage the public in understanding some of today’s most challenging issues and pressing concerns. As NEH launches a year-long celebration of its fiftieth anniversary in September 2015, the Common Good initiative seeks to demonstrate the vital role that the humanities can play in our public life. NEH’s enabling legislation speaks eloquently of the need to attend to “the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.” Today, as our country grapples with both remarkable opportunities and extraordinary challenges, the “conditions of our national life” suggest that this need is greater than ever.

The Common Good initiative envisions humanities scholars and organizations turning their attention and expertise to topics that have widespread resonance with the American people and that lend themselves to humanistic methods and concerns. Organizations are encouraged to think creatively about what discussion topics would be meaningful to their community. A list of questions that exemplify promising subjects might include the following:

  • How can the humanities illuminate both the positive and worrisome ways in which the remarkable advances in information technology are affecting individuals and communities in contemporary American life?
  • How can the humanities enrich the debate over the appropriate balance of security and privacy that technological advances have placed before us?
  • How can the humanities deepen public understanding of the meaning of democratic citizenship in the twenty-first century in relationship to our founding principles and values, our political history, and our current circumstances?
  • How can the humanities contribute to the understanding of the relationships between humans and the natural world?
  • How can the humanities illuminate the legacies of recent wars and conflicts and contribute to the achievement of a deeper and broader public understanding of the experience and lessons of war? (For more details, see NEH’s Standing Together initiative.)
  • How can the humanities contribute to the full incorporation of veterans into civilian life and help all of us appreciate their unique perspectives? (For more details see NEH’s Standing Together initiative.)
  • How can the humanities assist the country in addressing the challenges and opportunities created by the changing demographics in many American communities?
  • How can the humanities illuminate the enormous promise of new biomedical technologies and procedures and deepen our understanding of the complex ethical and personal questions they raise? 
  • How can the humanities address the various forms of cultural and political polarization that have become so prevalent in contemporary American life and thereby contribute to the building of new forms of community and understanding?

The Humanities in the Public Square program, a key part of the Common Good initiative, welcomes projects addressing a significant humanities theme that is important to a particular community, region, or state. The theme may be based on one of the questions above or it may address another significant public issue that is informed by the humanities in ways that will appeal to public audiences and concerns.

The project should consist of

  1. a public forum that engages scholars and humanities practitioners in discussion with a public audience about a theme;
  2. subsequent public programs that would use creative formats to engage audiences in reflection on and discussion of a humanities theme for an extended period of time; and
  3. educational resources that disseminate materials for ongoing use by teachers, students, and/or lifelong learners.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to forge partnerships with other institutions as appropriate (especially state humanities councils), to ensure that the scholarly, public programming, and educational elements are all well conceived and realized. More information on state humanities councils is available here.

Questions?

Contact the staff of NEH’s Division of Public Programs at 202-606-8269 or publicpgms@neh.gov. Hearing-impaired applicants can contact NEH via TDD at 1-866-372-2930.