Looking at the calendar, I find it hard to believe that the Humanities Texas staff has been working remotely since mid-March. It is even harder to believe how quickly and dramatically our day-to-day work has been transformed in that time. If you had described to me in January what we would be doing in the spring and summer—launching a new $1M grant initiative in a matter of days, moving nearly all of our programming online, holding multiple board and committee meetings via Zoom, and occasionally making masked visits to the Byrne-Reed House to check the mail—I simply would not have believed you.
The coronavirus notwithstanding, Humanities Texas has continued to pursue our organizational mission: improving the quality of classroom teaching, supporting libraries and museums, and creating opportunities for lifelong learning in the humanities throughout the state. Indeed, the past four and a half months have been some of the busiest, most challenging, and most productive in my sixteen years with the organization.
In early April, we learned that, as part of the CARES Act, Humanities Texas would receive $1.08 million from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to provide Relief Grants to Texas cultural and educational institutions facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. Within days of receiving the funds, we developed an online grant application process (a first for the organization), began holding webinars to promote the opportunity, and engaged state and federal elected officials to help us spread the word. Within seven weeks, we received 294 applications from a remarkably diverse range of organizations in all corners of the state. Sixty-five of the applicants are located in towns with populations of 10,000 or fewer. Half had never before received Humanities Texas support.
Staff and members of the Grants Review Committee moved quickly to review the applications and make funding recommendations to the board. In all, Humanities Texas awarded Relief Grants to 198 organizations in 96 Texas communities. (The map to the right shows their geographic distribution.) We are deeply fortunate to have this opportunity to provide such critical support to so many organizations providing public humanities programming to their communities and look forward to learning about the impact of these grants in the coming months.
In April and May, Humanities Texas made our first forays into online professional development programming, holding webinars for history and government teachers in partnership with the National Archives, the LBJ Presidential Library, and the National Constitution Center. Attendance in these programs surpassed our expectations; hundreds of Texas teachers, many of them new to Humanities Texas, registered in a matter of days. We quickly learned that online programs allow us to serve teachers who are unable to travel to our in-person workshops and institutes, and that teachers are eager as ever for opportunities to expand their mastery of the subjects they teach, even in this time of uncertainty.
This summer, we conducted a full and active schedule of online teacher programs, including week-long institutes for history teachers on the U.S. during the Founding Period, Texas in the years prior to the Texas Revolution, and the Cold War. For language arts teachers, we offered institutes on both the American literary tradition and approaches to teaching literary genres commonly taught at the secondary level. We also developed webinars and institutes in partnership with the Stanford History Education Group, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Huntington Library, and several individual scholars—such as art educator Stacy Fuller and film scholar Donna Kornhaber—who have been perennial favorites among teachers attending previous in-person programs. By summer's end, we anticipate that more than 1,500 Texas teachers will have participated in our online programs.
This fall, we will continue to develop remote programming that connects teachers both with distinguished scholars and the resources of the state's and nation's leading cultural institutions.
Our adventures in online programming have not been limited to teachers. We continue to collaborate with UT Austin College of Education faculty member Denise Dávila on Texas Storytime, our bilingual family reading program. In May, we received the good news that Texas Storytime received a $5,000 grant from the American Educational Research Association (AERA) to support Dr. Dávila's work with the program and facilitate its expansion to future program sites. In partnership with Dr. Dávila and Manor Independent School District, we are currently conducting a series of remote Texas Storytime sessions that give low-income families the tools to foster humanities-based learning at home. (The program was featured in a recent article in School Library Journal.) We expect to learn a number of valuable lessons that will help us reimagine how Texas Storytime can serve additional remote audiences in Texas communities.
We are also moving ahead with Veterans' Voices, our reading and discussion program for veterans, for which we received a highly competitive $99,959 NEH grant in January. Our original plans were to hold these programs face-to-face in College Station, Denton, and El Paso over the 2020–2021 academic year. We are currently exploring ways of holding the programs remotely in the event that we are not able to do so in person.
I am immensely proud of the service Humanities Texas has provided to the state since March. Our board has provided unwavering support and guidance in uncertain times. Meanwhile, our staff has shown remarkable creativity and dedication as we have moved to remote work and transitioned our programs online.
In a recent New Yorker article on the philosophical masterwork "On the Nature of Things," Stephen Greenblatt writes that the COVID-19 pandemic, like any plague, "tests us in unique ways. It ruthlessly takes the measure of our values, calls into question our familiar assumptions, shines a pitiless light on our social and political and religious order." Most of all, it requires that we look not only to science but also to other sources of "human inventiveness and resilience."
Certainly the humanities—our history, culture, and ideas—are essential in addressing the challenges of the current moment. Humanities Texas stands ready to support communities across the state as we all seek to reflect upon and understand the changes taking place in our lives.
I hope you will keep in touch and that this note finds you and yours safe and well.