Thursday, 11 November 2010

"The Humanities in America: The Case for Public Funding"

Seal of the US National Endowment for the Humanities

Podcast from Why? Philosophical Discussions about Everyday Life
14 Mar 2010 05:00:00 GMT
Guest: Brenna Daugherty, ND Humanities Council
Play: HERE

What are the humanities and why are they important?

How can the National Endowment for the Humanities claim that their activities are “critical to our common civic life as a nation?” And most controversially, should the U.S. government fund such cultural endeavors? In this episode of Why? we examine the philosophical issues related to what has come to be called the public humanities: the effort of both private and governmental organizations to create and support events that disseminate philosophy, history, literature, and other arts to the general public.
A North Dakota native, Brenna Daugherty is currently the executive director of the North Dakota Humanities Council, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. She received a master's degree in Theological Studies from the Harvard Divinity School in June 2005. Brenna has been awarded the Prudential Spirit of Community Award Bronze medal, a STAND Leader Americorp Education Award, and the Concordia College Servant Leadership Award for her work with early intervention for college attendance. At Concordia, her undergraduate alma mater, she was a founding member of TOCAR, a tri-college anti-racism initiative, and while at Harvard she was a founding member of Equitas, a social justice think tank.

(Thanks to JRW for the link)


  1. It seems to me that the humanites are in fact much too important to put into the hands of government. Nietzsche observed -- correctly, I think -- that there is an inverse relationship between the strength of the state and the strength of the culture. If we look around the world, we see that those cultures where government is least involved, the humanites are strongest; where government is most involved, the humanities are weakest. Always remember: he who pays the piper calls the tune. Government involvement is the surest way to kill the humanities in this country. I am thankful there is as little as there is. What makes anyone think a central authority is going to know what the best works and thoughts are out there? Knowledge is necessarily local and decentralized. Only if you want a deeply conservative -- in the very worse sense of the term -- culture and humanities do you want government support of the humanities.

  2. Actually, the publicly-funded UK higher education system has produced and sustained, up until this point, an extremely rich and diverse community of humanities scholars and a similarly rich, diverse and unfettered tradition of humanities scholarship. So, your point doesn't really hold. Moreover, you miss the point that in the US (where it sounds like you live) public universities have been (again, up until now) home to some of the most brilliant humanities research and teaching.

  3. There is a difference between direct funding by government, which was what was being talked about in this post, and indirect funding through hiring teachers at universities who also incidentally do humanities scholarship or create works of art or literature. Direct funding has all the problems I discuss. Indirect funding does not. I mean, you wouldn't argue that a humanities scholar or artist was receiving "corporate funding" if they made their living working at Wal-Mart or a bank.