NEH Awards Initial Grants in its Bridging Cultures Program

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently announced the first in a series of Bridging Cultures grants, awarding a total of $1.7 million that will enable humanities experts to launch public discussions addressing two pressing concerns: the role of civility in democracy and the understanding of Muslim contributions to world cultures.

Eight cultural and educational institutions around the country will host public forums designed to share the best of recent humanities research with members of the general public. New ideas coming out of these forums – ranging from “cyber-civility” to the cultural legacy of Timbuktu – will also form the basis for future educational and cultural programs that NEH intends to make available nationwide as part of its larger Bridging Cultures initiative. After each forum, participants will work with educators and members of state humanities councils to produce materials such as books, videos, exhibits, and other public programming to disseminate its content to regional and national audiences.

NEH Chairman Leach’s signature initiative, Bridging Cultures, highlights the role of the humanities in enhancing understanding and respect for diverse cultures and subcultures within America’s borders and around the globe. Building on a long tradition of support for excellent scholarship, NEH is renewing its focus on the need to bridge gaps in Americans’ understanding of world history, literature, philosophy, religion, archeology, language, and law.

A combined $1.7 million was awarded to the following recipients of the NEH’s 2010 Bridging Cultures: Planning and Implementation Grants for Academic Forums and Programs Development Workshops Grants:

  • American Bar Association (Chicago, IL) plans to partner with the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, the Newberry Library, the Center for Civic Engagement at Northwestern University, and the Illinois Humanities Council in convening a public forum on the tensions between civility and free expression. Moderators such as law professor Jeffrey Rosen, “cyber-civility” expert Justin Pachin, and legal journalist Dahlia Lithwick will engage an audience of scholars, legal professionals, civic organization leaders, K-12 educators, and students in discussion of such questions as: “What is civility?,” “What roles to norms play in fostering civility,” and “When do appeals to civility inhibit the free expression of ideas?” Scheduled for March 2011. ($247,158)
  • California Council for the Humanities (Los Angeles, CA) plans a conference and workshop at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy and the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles that will examine the varied meanings of civility throughout American history and its relationship to democracy. Participants will explore topics such as the history of contentious conversations, the role of compromise in democracy, the difference between incivility and impassioned dissent, and the future of public discourse in the digital age. Public outreach programs and educational materials developed during the forum will be incorporated in the Council’s Democracy Project, a two-year statewide initiative addressing the evolving nature of democracy in the United States. Scheduled for March 2011. ($250,000)
  • City Lore, Inc. (New York, NY) plans to partner with the Poets House in New York in staging a public forum that will use poetry as a lens for understanding the diversity of Muslim cultures and histories throughout the world. The day-long event will combine public performance with scholarly discussion of works by Muslim poets from Yemen, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Mali, and Somalia and explore themes such as the relationship between poetry and society, poetry and gender, and poetry and history. Scheduled for March 2011. ($175,000)
  • George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) Center for Global Islamic Studies, in partnership with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, plans to convene a two-day forum focusing on the political, cultural, artistic, and social achievements of Muslim societies from 1300-1900 and their role in the formation of global modernity. Leading scholars of Islamic history and culture will present recent scholarship on the period and, in a concluding workshop to be held in conjunction with the Virginia Festival of the Book, will work with educators, artists, museum personnel, and journalists to develop programming that will disseminate the forum’s content to broader audiences in Virginia and the nation. Scheduled for March 2011. ($219,549)
  • National Constitution Center (Philadelphia, PA) plans to host a public symposium that will convene political activists, journalists, and scholars from fields such as history, political science, sociology, law, and communications to discuss the role of dissent and protest in American culture. A keynote address, small group discussion sessions, and large town-hall exchange will foster dialogue on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, the concept of civic virtue, the importance of dissent and deliberation in America’s constitutional democracy, and the ways in which particular rhetorical modes and media forms can contribute or detract from productive public discourse. Scheduled for March 2011. ($249,887)
  • University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (Minneapolis–St. Paul, MN) plans a colloquium exploring the influences of Islamic cultural and intellectual traditions on the development of Western humanist and scientific thought. The conference will feature a keynote address, a dramatic performance and discussion of a 12th-century Muslim novel, Hayy ibn Yaqzan, that served as the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, followed by five panel discussions focusing on literature, science, architecture and religion, art and aesthetics, and the use of new media in artistic and cultural production. Scheduled for February 2011. ($170,439)
  • Tougaloo College (Jackson, MS) plans to build a forum around an exhibition at the International Museum of Muslim Cultures on “The Legacy of Timbuktu: Wonders of the Written Word” that will trace the connections between the culture and history of Muslim West Africa, Mississippi, and the United States through an examination of literature, texts, and music. With a focus on two central themes, “Islamic West Africa and Literacy” and “American Blues music and Muslim roots,” participants will examine historic texts such as the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, a West African Islamic scholar who was captured in 1807 and sold into slavery in North Carolina, and discuss scholarship describing similarities between early blues music and the Muslim call to prayer. Scheduled for February 2011. ($218,856)
  • Washington State University (Pullman, WA) Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy, in conjunction with Humanities Washington and the Idaho Humanities Council, plans a public forum exploring the state of civility in American democracy. Humanities scholars will explore how conceptions of civility have evolved over time and how it relates to social inequality and political power, how civility is affected by increasing ethnic and cultural diversity, how civility may be fostered or conditioned through public art and architecture or influenced through changing modes of communication, and examine whether an insistence on certain forms of civil behavior are necessary or detrimental to the institutions and practices of democratic governance. A workshop following the two-day event will bring together scholars, librarians, filmmakers, and K-12 educators to develop curricula, museum exhibits, library programs and online resources around the theme of civility. Scheduled for March 2011. ($212,735)