Notes: Report of the Commission on the Humanities, leading to the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities

Notes: Report of the Commission on the Humanities, leading to the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities

The Report of the Commission on the Humanities, which led to the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is always a great read.  I find different parts more relevant at different times. I’m again re-reading it, and today these quotes stand out:

Page 1: “One cannot speak of history or culture apart from the humanities. They not only record our lives; our lives are the very substance they are made of. Their subject is every man. We propose, therefore, a program for all our people, a program to meet a need no less serious than that for national defense. We speak, in truth, for what is being defended – our beliefs, our ideals, our highest achievements.”

Page 3: “Even the most gifted individual, whether poet or physicist, will not realize his full potential or make his fullest contribution to his times unless his imagination has been kindled by the aspirations and accomplishments of those who have gone before him. Humanist scholars have therefore a special responsibility in that the past is their natural domain. They have the privilege and obligation of interpreting the past to each new generation of men who ‘necessarily must live in one small corner for one little stretch of time.’”

Page 3: “Through the humanities we may seek intellectual humility, sensitivity to beauty, and emotional discipline. By them we may come to know the excitement of ideas, the power of imagination, and the unsuspected energies of the creative spirit.”

Page 3: “In the formative years of our own country it was a group of statesmen steeped in the humanities who fused their own experience with that of the past to create the enduring Constitution of the Republic.”

Page 4: “Many of the problems which confront the people of the United States necessarily involve the humanities. They are of nationwide scope and interest. Each is of concern to every citizen, and the way in which each is solved will be of consequence to him. Among them are the following: 1. All men require that a vision be held before them, an ideal toward which they may strive. Americans need such a vision today as never before in their history. It is both the dignity and the duty of humanists to offer their fellow-countrymen whatever understanding can be attained by fallible humanity of such enduring values as justice, freedom, virtue, beauty, and truth. Only thus do we join ourselves to the heritage of our nation and our human kind.”

Page 5: “3. The United States is not a nation of materialists, but many men believe it to be. They find it hard to fathom the motives of a country which will spend billions on its outward defense and at the same time do little to maintain the creative and imaginative abilities of its own people. The arts have an unparalleled capability for crossing the national barriers imposed by language and contrasting customs. The recently increased American encouragement of the performing arts is to be welcomed, and will be welcomed everywhere as a sign that Americans accept their cultural responsibilities, especially if it serves to prompt a corresponding increase in support for the visual and the liberal arts. It is by way of the humanities that we best come to understand cultures other than our own, and they best to understand ours.”

Page 5: “A novel and serious challenge to Americans is posed by the remarkable increase in their leisure time. The forty-hour week and the likelihood of a shorter one, the greater lifeexpectancy and the earlier ages of retirement, have combined to make the blessing of leisure a source of personal and community concern. “What shall I do with my spare time” all-tooquickly becomes the question “Who am I? What shall I make of my life?” When men and women find nothing within themselves but emptiness they turn to trivial and narcotic amusements, and the society of which they are a part becomes socially delinquent and potentially unstable. The humanities are the immemorial answer to man’s questioning and to his need for self-expression; they are uniquely equipped to fill the ‘abyss of leisure.'”

Page 6: “Today, moreover, young humanists need to be scientifically literate just as young scientists need to be aware of the world outside their specialty. Only a fully educated people will be capable of sound judgment in government, in business, or in their daily lives.”

Page 8: “We must unquestionably increase the prestige of the humanities and the flow of funds to them. At the same time, however grave the need, we must safeguard the independence, the originality, and the freedom of expression of all who are concerned with liberal learning.”

Page 10: “The state of the humanities today creates a crisis for national leadership. While it offers cultural opportunities of the greatest value to the United States and to mankind, it holds at the same time a danger that wavering purpose and lack of wellconceived effort may leave us second-best in a world correspondingly impoverished by our incomplete success. The challenge is no less critical and direct than the one we have already met with our strong advocacy of healthy and generously supported science. It must be met in turn with equal vision and resolve.”

Page 19-20: “To the frequent charge that the humanities are impractical and that they must give way in our schools to narrow concern with those studies which seem more immediately connected to economic opportunity for the individual or to survival in a world whose instruments of power are based on the specific applications of science, we would assert that the humanities play a uniquely effective role in determining a man’s behavior and values. Included in the humanities are those studies that help man to find a purpose, that endow him with the ability to criticize intelligently and therefore to improve his own society, and that establish for the individual his sense of identity with other men both in his own country and in the world at large. Men and women who have a thoughtful appreciation of humane studies understand more fully than others the complexities with which we all live, and they have the potential for dealing with these complexities more rationally and more successfully than people who are unaware of or indifferent to the humanities. Those who understand and appreciate the humanities also lead more rewarding lives both within their own hearts and minds [page 20] and in their relations with their neighbors and associates, their communities and their country.”

Page 20: “In making these broad claims for humanistic studies we would emphasize that we are not talking solely about the humanities as a collection of studies designed mainly to produce scholars. Rather, we are concerned with every student who attends the public and private elementary and secondary schools of the United States, and with the type of person and citizen he is likely to become after his formal schooling has been completed. Whether a student leaves school after grade 9, after grade 12, after college, or after achieving a doctoral degree, it is important to him and to society that he be allowed to receive, as fully as his own potential permits, the heritage which is his in the humanities. While the schools are not the only agency to accomplish this task, there is no other in America today that bears so heavy a responsibility for it.”

Page 30: “Our responsibility to the best in our own tradition and to the world at large demands that we get immediately to the business of improvement in an aspect of our life as a nation which we have too long neglected. The cost of doing otherwise is to be measured in the adverse effect on our national character and our national life. “