National Humanities Council Meets as NEH Faces Budget Uncertainty, New Chairman

The National Council on the Humanities, the advisory body to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), met on July 10 and 11. The meeting was presided over by NEH’s Acting Chairman Carole Watson, who has been leading the agency since Jim Leach left in May. Watson observed that it has been a time of change for NEH, which recently relocated from its home of more than 30 years in the Old Post Office Building to new offices in Constitution Center. In addition, President Obama’s nominee to lead the agency, William “Bro” Adams, former president of Colby College, had recently been confirmed by the Senate. Adams was sworn in on July 22, beginning his tenure as Chairman.

At the time of the meeting, the House Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee had just approved a cut of $8 million (more than 5 percent) to the NEH’s $146 million budget for fiscal year (FY) 2015, which would have brought the agency to its lowest funding level since 1972. In the days following, the full House Appropriations Committee restored the cut, proposing to maintain NEH’s FY 2014 budget. However, as the Congressional appropriations process has all but ground to a halt, all federal agencies are facing a certain amount of fiscal uncertainty.

During the meeting, the Council heard a presentation about the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) from Dan Cohen, DPLA’s executive director. Supported by funding from the NEH as well as private foundations, DPLA is a repository of digitized items (photographs, artwork, manuscripts, etc.) made freely available to the public and organized according to categories including topic, location, format, and time period. Its content comes from a network of regional hubs located around the country. When it launched in April 2013, the library consisted of 2.4 million items provided by six hubs, comprising 500 contributing institutions (local libraries, historical societies, museums, etc.). Today, less than a year and a half later, DPLA’s collection has grown to 7.3 million items, coming from 11 hubs and 1300 contributing institutions. DPLA also maintains an open data policy, allowing for the development of a vibrant ecosystem of third-party apps. Cohen explained that DPLA’s next goal is to expand its hubs and partnerships so it truly covers the entire country. He noted that NEH’s initial support for the project was critical, not just in terms of funding but because the NEH’s “seal of approval” was a draw for other partners.

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