Editor's Note

Editor’s Note

On March 27, President Donald J. Trump signed into law a congressional stimulus package to address the economic damage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The stimulus included $75 million to the National Endowment for the Humanities, 40 percent of which has already gone to state and jurisdictional humanities councils to support humanities programming at the local level.

“The remaining 60 percent, or $45 million,” NEH announced, “will support at-risk humanities positions and projects at museums, libraries and archives, historic sites, colleges and universities, and other cultural nonprofits that have been financially impacted by the coronavirus.”

See the NEH website for more details on this important funding opportunity.

As it happens, we were already planning an issue of Humanities that takes some of its cues from a particularly difficult moment in American history: the Great Depression. We have an article on the sublime work of Dorothea Lange, whose photos were recently exhibited in Oklahoma. There is an interesting quote from John Steinbeck featured in the exhibit. Steinbeck, of course, was one of the major literary voices of the Great Depression, and I don’t know what to make of the line, but I keep thinking on it.

He said, “We have lived in the greatest of all periods. If the question were asked, if you could choose out of all time, when would you elect to have lived, I would surely say—the Present.”

Two other less-celebrated figures of the era can also be found in these pages, leading a package of articles about NEH-supported projects on the history of music. Margaret Valiant and Sidney Robertson were young employees of the Resettlement Administration, for which they quietly, stealthily even, collected songs and recordings under the supervision of Charles Seeger. In the process they became unsung heroes of the coming revival in American folk music. NEH Public Scholar Sheryl Kaskowitz writes about these hidden figures of music history.

Cut from a similar cloth, Ron and Fay Stanford followed their love of music from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to southern Louisiana, where, in the early seventies, they recorded, interviewed, and photographed front-porch legends of Cajun and zydeco. Photos from their NEH-supported project recently resurfaced at an exhibition and now appear on the cover and inside this issue of Humanities magazine, with a special foreword from former NEH chairman Bill Ferris.

American music itself has seen a revival in scholarly interest. At the heart of this revival is MUSA or the Music of the United States of America, which has issued 31 volumes on key figures, genres, and periods. Dale Cockrell, the director of one such critical edition, tells the touching story of how he became interested in the music of Charles Ingalls.

The music of George and Ira Gershwin has also benefited from the development of critical editions. This year a critical edition of Porgy and Bess from the NEH-supported Gershwin Initiative was used by the Metropolitan Opera. Jennifer Hambrick reports.

Continuing our commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Kimberly Hamlin tells the hard-to-believe story of Helen Hamilton Gardener, the freethinking “fallen woman” who personally won over Woodrow Wilson to the cause of women’s suffrage.