Here in Alabama we care deeply about our heritage. We celebrate our culture, and we know that to be worthy of our future we must honor the best of our past. This is why it troubles us that the National Endowment for the Humanities has been slated for elimination.
The NEH, which supports museums, archives, libraries, colleges and universities, favors projects that reach the widest possible public for widest possible impact. For example, NEH funding has supported scholars across the country in putting presidential papers online. Thanks to NEH, educators here in Mobile and throughout Alabama can share with our students material that was once packed away in dusty boxes, accessible only to experts.
In addition to preserving our American heritage, the NEH helps expand our knowledge of regions of the world vital to U.S. interests. For example, University of South Alabama scholars with the Center for the Study of War and Memory have asked the NEH to fund a project to translate and publish key documents of Russian military history that give Americans and policymakers critical context for understanding Russian military thinking today.
Some have asked, “Why should the American people pay for the NEH?” We would answer that we have a duty to the past to preserve our heritage and a duty to the future to teach our children about our history and culture. Moreover, it is in our interest today to understand other world cultures in order to make informed global policy decisions.
Supporting the study and celebration of American history and culture is a civic responsibility and an act of patriotism. Supporting the study of the world is essential to national security. These are the core missions of the NEH and they accomplish them for very little money in comparison to the overall budget. NEH receives .003 percent of our national budget, or about 47 cents per American annually.
It has been suggested private networks can fund the kinds of programs supported by the NEH, and they can help, but public support is essential. Think about it: Should Thomas Jefferson’s papers belong to Princeton University or to all Americans?
From our small investment in the NEH, we reap a huge reward: ownership of our rich national heritage.
Susan McCready and Steven Trout