“The Common Good:
The Humanities in the Public Square”
“The humanities belong to all the people of the United States.”
The Common Good is a new initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities designed to demonstrate the critical role humanities scholarship can play in our public life.
This initiative is especially appropriate as NEH celebrates its 50th anniversary from September 2015 to September 2016. The Endowment’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.
Through NEH’s traditional grant-making programs and several special initiatives, The Common Good encourages humanities scholars to turn their attention to topics that have widespread resonance with the American people and that lend themselves to the methods and concerns of the humanities. The Endowment encourages individuals and organizations to think creatively about such topics. These may, for example, include:
- 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?
- How can the humanities contribute to the full incorporation of veterans into civilian life and help all of us appreciate their unique perspectives?
- 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?
Launched in January 2015, NEH supports individual and organizational efforts to address these and other related topics in publicly accessible ways.
Below are components of The Common Good initiative:
Continuing Grant Programs
NEH welcomes proposals in all appropriate grant programs for projects that draw on the resources and methods of the humanities to engage the public in understanding aspects of contemporary national life that can be informed and enriched through humanities scholarship. Language inviting such projects is included as a special encouragement in grant guidelines.
The Public Scholar Program supports well-researched books in the humanities intended to reach a wide readership. The Program aims to encourage scholarship that will be of broad interest and have lasting impact. Proposals addressing the purposes and themes of The Common Good are encouraged. The first NEH Public Scholar grants were awarded in July 2015.
Humanities in the Public Square grants supports efforts to put humanities scholars in direct dialogue with the public on some of the most pressing issues of today through public forums, community programs, and the development of educational resources. The first NEH Humanities in the Public Square grants were awarded in December 2015.
The Humanities Open Book grant program, jointly sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seeks to give second life to outstanding out-of-print books in the humanities by turning them into freely accessible e-books. The first Humanities Open Book grants were awarded in December 2015.
Common Heritage grants make historical records and artifacts digitally available to a wider public by supporting of community “digitization days” and accompanying public programming. The first NEH Common Heritage grants were awarded in December 2015.
Humanities Initiatives at Community Colleges grants strengthen the teaching and study of humanities at two-year institutions by supporting initiatives to enhance and expand humanities resources and opportunities available at community colleges. The first NEH Humanities Initiatives at Community Colleges grants were awarded in March 2016.
NEH’s initiative supporting projects and grants connecting the humanities to the experiences of war and veterans will receive additional support within the framework of The Common Good initiative.
A new Standing Together grant program, Dialogues on the Experience of War grant program supports community discussion groups for veterans and their families that use humanities texts to examine the experience of military service. The first NEH Dialogues on the Experience of War grants were awarded in March 2016.
Public Programs for Underserved Audiences
The Museums, Libraries and Cultural Organizations Program will specifically encourage proposals for public humanities programs that reach new, under-served, or at-risk audiences.
This includes NEH support for Latino Americans: 500 Years of History, a nationwide public programming initiative in 200 communities, administered by the American Library Association (ALA) that explores the rich and varied history of Latino-Americans.
NEH will invite humanities councils in states and territories across the country to participate in The Common Good Initiative. We anticipate that councils will extend the reach of the initiative by showcasing ways in which the humanities strengthen local communities.
 National Foundation of the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965.