In the legislation creating the National Endowment for the Humanities, the import of public humanities work is summarized: “Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens.”
Specifically, NEH defines humanities as including but not limited to “the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism, and theory of the arts; those aspects of the social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”
Don Michael Randel, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in a March 10, 2009, panel discussion at George Washington University sponsored by The American Academy of Arts & Sciences eloquently summarized the humanities this way: “What we really hope for is a certain quality of mind…a way in which the mind never ceases to be full of wonder of the world and all its people.”
As a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North Carolina Humanities Council seeks to widen its already considerable impact at the local level as a truly visible, dynamic public humanities organization whose forums are accessible and available across the state. The role of the public humanities is to encourage citizens to examine, critique, and celebrate North Carolina and American culture in the broadest sense; and the role of the North Carolina Humanities Council is to facilitate the examination and the celebration of these cultures. Communities often lack means and resources, and people do not always seek out opportunities to have these discussions on their own. Public humanities programs spur the conversations and discoveries that lead people to a more engaged understanding of the complexities of their environments.
The Humanities Council embraces the challenge to serve North Carolinians statewide, offer opportunities for life-long learning, and support North Carolinians in their efforts to unearth and contextualize questions any community might identify, whether it be about history or story or culture. The Humanities Council’s outreach supports communities in both reacting to the needs they have identified and helping communities to search for and identify their own needs.
The Humanities Council identifies, facilitates, and advocates for strengthening public humanities in ways that give meaning and purpose to individual and community lives, recognizing that those values cannot necessarily be reduced to measurable figures and statistics. The Humanities Council serves as a bridge between scholars and communities who contribute to inquiry and generate knowledge.