America needs the humanities more than ever

March 20, 2017

Source: Baltimore Sun, March 18, 2017

by Phoebe Stein

Anne Arundel County students trained in oral history techniques interviewed veterans and Vietnamese Marylanders about their experiences during the Vietnam war as part of a project dubbed “A Journey through Vietnam.” The recorded interviews will be housed at the Maryland State Archives as a resource for future generations. Without this project, these stories would likely be lost to time.

Oral history projects like this one, along with reading and discussion groups, community conversations and living history performances all fall under the category of humanities: history, literature, philosophy, languages, the law and ethics. Each fosters understanding of others and improves our ability to interact meaningfully — more important than ever in these divided times. We at Maryland Humanities have seen firsthand that bringing diverse groups of people together to share ideas and experiences can enrich our lives and strengthen the fabric of our communities.

But some have debated the value of such efforts. Indeed, the White House’s proposed budget eliminates the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), along with its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). NEH is the federal agency that makes local programs like “A Journey through Vietnam” possible, through grant making across the nation and core funding to state humanities councils like ours. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with NEH support, Maryland Humanities is able to provide free access to educational opportunities throughout the entire state — from Mountain Maryland to the Eastern Shore. In 2016, we directly served nearly 52,000 people of all ages and backgrounds, from students to teachers and incarcerated populations.

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