Humanities Texas advances history, culture, and education. As the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, we conduct and support public programs in history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines. These programs strengthen Texas communities by cultivating the knowledge and judgment that representative democracy demands of its citizens.
In 1965, the 89th Congress of the United States passed the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act (Public Law 209). This act established a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Congress encouraged both endowments to decentralize at least a portion of their funding. By 1972, the NEH decided that nonprofit citizen committees afforded the best opportunity for promoting the humanities in the individual states.
In May 1972, the NEH invited four Texans to a two-day conference in Washington to be briefed on NEH's state program. These individuals were Thomas B. Brewer, vice chancellor of Texas Christian University; Levi A. Olan, Dallas rabbi and former member of The University of Texas Board of Regents; Emmet Field, vice president of academic affairs at the University of Houston; and David M. Vigness, chair of the department of history at Texas Tech University. The group then held meetings in Dallas to discuss initiating such a program in Texas. Through the leadership of Dr. Brewer, the Texas Committee for the Humanities applied for and received a $20,000 planning grant from the NEH, and operations began on January 1, 1973.
The board next conducted a series of regional conferences. Since the NEH required all state humanities committees to focus on the relationship between the humanities and public policy issues, the group was renamed the Texas Committee for the Humanities and Public Policy. On June 15, 1973, the Committee requested funds from NEH to support administration, program development, and grants to local projects. A $170,000, eighteen-month grant was approved, effective October 1, 1973. The Committee's board employed a director, Sandra L. Myres, a member of the history faculty at The University of Texas at Arlington. The Committee awarded its first grant in January 1974 to KUT 90.5 FM, Austin, for a series of weekly two-hour radio programs focusing on the Texas Constitutional Revision Convention. Articles of Association were signed on March 18, 1976, and remained in effect until September 5, 1985, when the Texas Committee for the Humanities was incorporated under the laws of Texas. The Internal Revenue Service granted the organization tax-exempt status on August 25, 1976.
In its 1976 legislation reauthorizing the NEH, Congress encouraged committees to undertake traditional humanities projects as well as those relating to public policy. Since that time, the council has developed and funded numerous projects in traditional humanities fields including U.S. and Texas history, literature, and culture. In recognition of this shift, the organization was renamed the Texas Committee for the Humanities in 1978. In 1996, the organization was renamed the Texas Council for the Humanities (TCH), to reflect the increasing use of the word "council" rather than "committee" by Congress and other state programs. In consideration of its 30th anniversary, the council desired a name more reflective of its inclusive, accessible approach to supporting public humanities programs around the state, so on January 1, 2004, the council changed its name once again, this time to Humanities Texas.
State humanities councils experienced modest increases in annual funding from the federal government from their beginning through the early 1980s. In 1986, however, TCH revenues were cut almost in half when federal funding dropped significantly and private sector support—weakened by the collapse of the Texas economy—diminished at the same time. Some major initiatives had to be curtailed, postponed, or eliminated. Funds were gradually restored by the early 1990s and held stable through 1995. As a result of the 1994 national elections, many federal programs, including the NEH, came under close scrutiny by the new Congress. By 1996, the annual budget for the NEH had dropped from $178 to $110 million. State humanities councils, however, experienced more modest cuts, with TCH losing approximately 6% of its federal funding.
As an independent nonprofit corporation working in cooperation with the NEH, Humanities Texas can solicit funding from the private sector. In addition to donations from its Friends group, the council has received support for particular projects from foundations and corporations. For example, The Shell Oil Companies Foundation and the Hoblitzelle Foundation provided major funding for the organization's Sesquicentennial project, "The Texas Experience." Funding from Brown Foundation, Inc. helped launch the council's magazine, which was published from 1977 to 2001. The T. L. L. Temple Foundation and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., have supported the Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Awards program, and the Trull Foundation has provided funds for workshops for teachers. In 2010, the council completed its first-ever capital campaign, raising more than $5 million for the purchase and restoration of the Byrne-Reed House. The council continues to seek grants from foundations and corporations and to broaden its ever-increasing circle of friends.
Cognizant that the quality of teachers is a critical factor in student achievement, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst initiated the expansion of the Humanities Texas Teacher Enrichment Program with state funding in 2009. This represented the council's first-ever state legislative appropriation. In the FY 2010–2011 biennium, the council received just over $1.4 million in state support to administer twelve summer teacher institutes and thirteen one-day workshops. Despite an especially challenging budgetary environment, the state continued its support in the FY2012–13 biennium, providing the council with $500,000 each year.
The Texas Humanities Resource Center (THRC) was established in 1978 as a unit of The University of Texas at Arlington Library. It relocated to Austin and operated as an independent nonprofit corporation from 1986 to 1992, when it merged with the state humanities council. Functioning as a division of the council, the THRC organized and circulated exhibitions, audiovisual programs, and print materials for use by cultural and educational communities in Texas and beyond.
In 1996, the THRC launched a major initiative to use electronic resources to improve humanities teaching in Texas schools. Humanities Interactive, an online exhibitions and educational space, received initial financial support from the Meadows Foundation, the Houston Endowment, and the NEH. THRC also co-sponsored summer workshops for K-12 teachers with colleges and universities throughout Texas from 1997 to 2003.
By 2003, the THRC had held more than 2,860 programs in 247 communities in Texas, collected and created more than seventy-five exhibitions on fifty-six different subjects, and developed a rental library of more than 400 films, videos, and slide programs. In 2003, the materials developed by the THRC were fully integrated within Humanities Texas’s general operations. Humanities Texas continues to create and circulate traveling exhibitions and other humanities resources.
From 1977 to 2001, the council published a semiannual magazine called Texas Journal of Ideas, History and Culture, which expanded its outreach by offering a window to the public humanities within and beyond Texas. Each issue focused on a theme, often drawing material from council projects. Single issues examined the environment, health care, Latino literature, the pursuit of community, American pluralism, and religion in American life. The magazine highlighted important developments in the humanities, reviewed new books, films, and exhibitions, and reported on specific projects. The Journal enjoyed a circulation of more than 10,000. The magazine's title for its first ten years was The Texas Humanist.
Throughout the years, the state council published a semi-regular newsletter called Humanities: The Newsletter of the Texas Council for the Humanities. In fall 2007, the council switched to an electronic newsletter format under the name Humanities: The Newsletter of Humanities Texas. The monthly e-newsletter includes articles and updates about state council programs as well as essays by the executive director and other noted scholars.
The first office of the Texas Committee for the Humanities was on the campus of The University of Texas at Arlington, which provided office space and some support services. The organization moved to Austin in June 1980 to be closer to other statewide organizations and to state government. In the late 1980s, Humanities Texas moved to 3809A South Second Street, a small condominium office project in South Austin. A 1990 grant from the Meadows Foundation in the amount of $50,000 provided funds for a down payment, and the council retired the mortgage in 1997.
In 2005, Humanities Texas began searching for centrally located offices that would provide both visibility within the community and a venue for programs. Size, location, and price were important considerations, but the council also wanted to find a historic building that would reflect Humanities Texas’s emphasis on history and cultural heritage. In December 2006, the council purchased and moved to the Byrne-Reed House, a century-old mansion that had been wrapped in a 1970s stucco façade for nearly forty years.
Humanities Texas completed the restoration of the Byrne-Reed House to its original grandeur in August 2010. Thousands of people pass by the building every day, increasing Humanities Texas’s name recognition around the state. The elegant public spaces on the first floor, including the Julius and Suzan Glickman Room, provide a grand setting for council events and those of other organizations. These grand spaces are also used to hold seminars, conferences, and workshops for Texas teachers, and the large basement houses a workshop and over sixty exhibitions that travel to schools, libraries, and museums throughout Texas and the nation.
The success of the Texas educational system depends on nurturing qualified teachers and keeping them in the classroom. For more than two decades, Humanities Texas has addressed these challenges by supporting the work of the state’s social studies and language arts teachers through a range of educational initiatives—its Teacher Enrichment Program, in particular. Throughout the year, Humanities Texas conducts workshops and institutes offering teachers the opportunity to work closely with leading scholars, exploring topics at the heart of the state's social studies and language arts curricula. Teachers have the opportunity to attend dynamic lectures, participate in faculty-led workshops, and explore the resources of the state’s major cultural institutions. Participant evaluations have been consistently superlative, with many teachers reporting that Humanities Texas programs provide the very best professional development experience of their careers. These programs for Texas teachers have become one of the council’s signature programs.
As noted above, Humanities Texas dramatically expanded its Teacher Enrichment Program with state support in 2010. Before that year, the council had held no more than two teacher institutes in a single summer. Between June 2010 and December 2011, Humanities Texas held twelve summer institutes and nineteen one-day workshops, serving more than 1,200 teachers. At the direction of the state, Humanities Texas ensures that these programs target early-career teachers in low-performing schools. Of the 252 teachers who attended the council’s 2011 summer institutes, for example, nearly half (49%) were in their first five years of service and 73% teach in schools, districts, or areas of the state that struggle with student performance on state assessments.
Federal law allows the Texas governor to appoint six individuals to the volunteer board for two-year terms. The other members, representatives of the academic and public sectors, are elected by the board as vacancies occur. Non-gubernatorial members serve terms of three years, with the possibility of each being re-elected to a second three-year term.
Sandra L. Myres served as executive director from 1973 to 1975. Executive Director Emeritus James F. Veninga served from 1975 until 1997. Richard T. Hull served from 1997 to 1999, Monte Youngs served from 1999 to 2002, and Michael L. Gillette served from 2003 to 2019. Eric Lupfer became executive director in August 2019.