Girish Mahajan (Editor)

National Endowment for the Humanities

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September 29, 1965

29 September 1965


Number of employees
159 (2010)

National Endowment for the Humanities httpswwwnehgovfilesnehlogohorizlargejpg

Federal government of the United States

Annual budget
$167,500,000 USD (2010)

Agency executives
William Drea Adams, Chair Margaret (Peggy) Plympton, Deputy Chair

Washington, D.C., United States


The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent federal agency of the U.S. government, established by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 (Pub.L. 89–209), dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. The NEH is housed at 400 7th St SW, Washington, D.C.; From 1979 to 2014, NEH was located at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. in the Nancy Hanks Center at the Old Post Office.


History and overview

The NEH provides grants for high-quality humanities projects to cultural institutions such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars. NEH was created in 1965 under the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities, which also included the National Endowment for the Arts and later the Institute for Museum Services, as a move to provide greater investment in culture by the federal government. NEH was based upon recommendation of the National Commission on the Humanities, convened in 1963 with representatives from three US scholarly and educational associations. The agency creates incentives for excellent work in the humanities by awarding grants that strengthen teaching and learning in the humanities in schools and colleges across the nation, facilitate research and original scholarship, provide opportunities for lifelong learning, preserve and provide access to cultural and educational resources and to strengthen the institutional base of the humanities. As part of its mandate to support humanities programs in every US state and territory, the agency supports a network of private, nonprofit affiliates, the 56 humanities councils in the states and territories of the United States.

The tenth Chair of the NEH is William 'Bro' Adams, formerly president of Colby College in Maine. President Obama nominated Adams on April 4, 2014; Adams was confirmed by the Senate in a voice vote on July 9, 2014. Adams appointed Margaret (Peggy) Plympton as the Deputy NEH Chair in January 2015. Prior to Adams's appointment, the NEH was headed by Acting Chair Carole M. Watson.

The ninth NEH Chair was Jim Leach. President Obama nominated the former Iowa congressman, a Republican, to chair the NEH on June 3, 2009; the Senate confirmed his appointment in August 2009. Leach began his term as the NEH Chair on August 12, 2009 and stepped down in May 2013. Between November 2009 and May 2011, Leach conducted the American "Civility Tour" to call attention to the need to restore reason and civility back into politics, a goal that in his words was "central to the humanities." Leach visited each of the 50 states, speaking at venues ranging from university and museum lecture halls to hospitals for veterans, to support the return of non-emotive, civil exchange and rational consideration of other viewpoints. According to Leach, "Little is more important...than establishing an ethos of thoughtfulness and decency of expression in the public square. Words reflect emotion as well as meaning. They clarify—or cloud—thought and energize action, sometimes bringing out the better angels in our nature, sometimes lesser instincts." Since the completion of Leach's Civility Tour, rallies for reasoning politics like Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity, and grassroots initiatives for pluralistic rationalism in public discourse, have reflected Leach's call for civil, non-emotive and reasoning language between those with disparate religious or political ideologies.


The Endowment is directed by the NEH Chair. Advising the Chair is the National Council on the Humanities, a board of 26 distinguished private citizens who are also appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The National Council members serve staggered six-year terms.

The NEH Chair

The Endowment is directed by a presidentially appointed Chair, who approves all recommendations and awards grants. All of the Chair's recommendations are informed by the National Council on the Humanities and peer-reviewers who are selected to read each project proposal submitted to the Endowment.

Grant-making divisions and offices

The NEH has seven grant-making divisions and offices:

  • The Division of Preservation and Access awards grants to preserve, maintain, and improve access to primary sources in the humanities, in both digital and analog form.
  • The Division of Public Programs supports projects that bring the humanities to large audiences through libraries and museums, television and radio, historic sites, and digital media.
  • The Division of Research makes awards to support original scholarship in all areas of the humanities, funding individuals as well as teams of researchers and institutions.
  • The Division of Education works to support and strengthen teaching of the humanities.
  • The Office of Federal/State Partnership collaborates with 56 state and territory humanities councils to strengthen local programs.
  • The Office of Challenge Grants administers grants intended to support centers and endowments through fundraising by humanities institutions to further long-term stability.
  • The Office of Digital Humanities advises on use of technology in the humanities and coordinates.
  • Special Initiatives

    These are special priorities of the Endowment that indicate critical areas of the humanities as identified by the NEH Chair. They differ from the divisions of the Endowment in that they do not sponsor or coordinate specific grant programs.

    Bridging Cultures Initiative

    Bridging Cultures is an NEH initiative that explores ways in which the humanities promote understanding and mutual respect for people with diverse histories, cultures, and perspectives. Projects supported through this initiative focus on cultures globally as well as within the United States. International projects might seek to enlarge Americans' understanding of other places and times, as well as other perspectives and intellectual traditions. American projects might explore the great variety of cultural influences on, and myriad subcultures within, American society. These projects might also investigate how Americans have approached and attempted to surmount seemingly unbridgeable cultural divides, or examine the ideals of civility and civic discourse. In connection with a focus on civic discourse, projects might explore the role of women in America's civic life as well as the civic role of women in other cultures and regions of the world.

    Standing Together

    This initiative, launched in 2014, marks a priority to make awards that promote understanding of the military experience and to support returning veterans.

    "We the People" Initiative

    We the People" is an NEH program designed to encourage and enhance the teaching, study, and understanding of American history, culture, and democratic principles. The initiative supports projects and programs that explore significant events and themes in American nation's history, which advance knowledge of the principles that define America.

    NEH was founded on the belief that cultivating the best of the humanities has real and tangible benefits for civic life. Through "We the People," NEH has rededicated itself to this mission, and is leading a renaissance in knowledge about American history and principles among all our citizens. The NEH launched the "We the People" initiative on Constitution Day, September 17, 2002.

    Noteworthy projects

    Since 1965, the Endowment has sponsored many projects, including:

  • "Treasures of Tutankhamen," the blockbuster exhibition seen by more than 1.5 million people.
  • The Civil War, the landmark 1990 documentary by Ken Burns seen by 38 million Americans.
  • Library of America, editions of novels, essays, and poems celebrating America's literary heritage.
  • United States Newspaper Project, an effort to catalog and microfilm 63.3 million pages of newspapers dating from the early Republic. The program is now digitizing newspapers and making them freely available online as part of Chronicling America.
  • Fifteen Pulitzer Prize–winning books, including those by James M. McPherson, Louis Menand, Joan D. Hedrick, and Bernard Bailyn.
  • EDSITEment, a Web project bringing the "best of the humanities on the web" to teachers and students, started in 1997.
  • Reference archives, in Athens and Boston, of archaeological photographs taken by Eleanor Emlen Myers.
  • The Valley of the Shadow, an innovative digital history website created by Edward L. Ayers and William G. Thomas III on the experience of Confederate Civil War Soldiers in the United States.
  • What's on the Menu, digitization and community-sourced transcription of New York Public Library's historic restaurant menu collection.
  • Jefferson Lecture

    Since 1972 the NEH has sponsored the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, which it describes as "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities." The Jefferson Lecturer is selected each year by the National Council on the Humanities. The honoree delivers a lecture in Washington, D.C., during the spring, and receives an honorarium of $10,000. The stated purpose of the honor is to recognize "an individual who has made significant scholarly contributions in the humanities and who has the ability to communicate the knowledge and wisdom of the humanities in a broadly appealing way."

    National Humanities Medal and Charles Frankel Prize

    The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities. Up to 12 medals can be awarded each year. From 1989 to 1996 the NEH awarded a similar prize known as the Charles Frankel Prize. The new award, a bronze medallion was designed by David Macaulay, the 1995 winner of the Frankel Prize. Lists of the winners of the National Humanities Medal and the Frankel Prize are available at the NEH website.

    Humanities magazine

    Starting in 1969, the NEH published a periodical called Humanities; that original incarnation was discontinued in 1978. In 1980, Humanities magazine was relaunched (ISSN 0018-7526). It is published six times per year, with one cover article each year dedicated to profiling that year's Jefferson Lecturer. Most of its articles have some connection to NEH activities. The magazine's editor since 2007 has been journalist and author David Skinner. From 1990 until her death in 2007, Humanities was edited by Mary Lou Beatty (who had previously been a high-ranking editor at the Washington Post).


    National Endowment for the Humanities Wikipedia

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