There are many scenarios of carnage among the puritan, military budget the orange one is forwarding to Congress. Of the many horrors, the plan to abolish the National Endowment for the Humanities is one that will have a most egregious effect on the intellectual vitality of US universities.
Materials for a Leisure Hour. MTB-PE-259. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. In Copyright.
In particular, no other funding body has made such a concerted strategic investment in the Digital Humanities. Their Office of the Digital Humanities has helped define the area, creating an intellectual space where technical innovation can be allied to new research questions.
The humanities desperately need this support to ensure they remain valid in the twenty-first century. What does it mean to be an historian, anthropologist or linguist in an era saturated by the effects of the Internet? Without else, how can we start to understand, in a rich, empathetic sense, the actions and opinions of myriad peoples of yesterday and today.
The work the NEH did in this area was established new ground. Their Advanced Topics projects has brought together people on (amongst many other fields) 3D modelling of cultural heritage, digital sound, Native American studies and data curation. Elsewhere they have galvanised research on preserving computing software, textual mark-up, Shakespeare, World War One veterans, Egyptology.
The list of topics they have enabled is long.
The NEH not only established common ground for the digital humanities but has also been groundbreaking.
The Digging into Data challenge pushed text and data mining to the fore when only very few had recognised its potential. Whatsmore, the NEH orchestrated this at an international level, drawing in cooperation from the UK, Netherlands, Canada and Germany. Elsewhere they nourished links betweens the humanities and biology, realising the interdisciplinary power that the humanities has.
And the NEH have ensured that the influence of all this is not restricted to the university sector. They also played a significant role in supporting the Digital Public Library of America, to ensure open access to American digitised culture throughout the world.
The work of the NEH has meant that the US can rightfully call itself a pioneer pushing forward the humanities’ agenda.
If the fight to save the NEH is unsuccessful, it will be America’s and the world’s loss. Reflection, analysis and engagement of the way the world, analogue and digital, is always needed.