In celebration of our fiftieth anniversary, this month we are highlighting a few of the early initiatives of the Texas Committee for the Humanities (TCH), as Humanities Texas was known from 1978 to 1996. These projects—which range from a resource center designed to support the work of small cultural and educational organizations across the state to an expansive research initiative envisioning Texas's future—were either directly administered by TCH or made possible with TCH grant funding.
The Texas Humanities Resource Center (THRC) was established in February 1978 as a unit of The University of Texas at Arlington, where TCH was headquartered at the time. The THRC was designed to respond to two concerns: first, that institutions in small communities and rural areas often lack resources for development of public humanities programs, and second, that the recently established state humanities council was still relatively unknown among the state's cultural and educational nonprofits. Thus, the THRC circulated traveling exhibitions, media products, and educational materials to increase the number of programs taking place around the state while simultaneously raising the profile of TCH in these communities. It was the first resource center of its kind established by a state humanities council.
Examples of early THRC projects include Planning Humanities Programs: A Guide for Project Directors, a publication designed to assist directors in rural or under-funded regions; Albert Einstein: A Centennial Celebration, a touring photography exhibition with a related film and discussion program; The American Short Story, a film and discussion program; Pompeii, AD 79, a touring photography exhibition with companion film and discussion units; The Treasures of Tutankhamun, a touring exhibition of posters with film and discussion units; and Rosebud to Dallas, a documentary exploring the history of U.S. policy toward American Indians. Only eighteen months after the Center's founding, more than one hundred programs had taken place across Texas communities with over 340,000 participants.
For its first fifteen years, the THRC was an independent entity. Its mission was linked to that of the TCH, and it operated in part with the support of TCH grants. However, the THRC also successfully secured grants from funders including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Houston Endowment, and the Meadows Foundation.
In 1985, the THRC relocated from UT Arlington to Austin, and in 1992, the Center merged with the Texas Committee for the Humanities. As a division of the TCH, the resource center continued to organize and circulate exhibitions, audio-visual programs, and print materials.
In 2003, the materials developed by the THRC were fully integrated within Humanities Texas's general operations as our Traveling Exhibitions program. Humanities Texas continues to create and circulate traveling exhibitions and other humanities resources across the state and nation.
One of the many significant projects funded by early grants from TCH was the "Understanding Vietnam" symposium in Salado, Texas, on October 29–31, 1982, sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities at Salado and held at the city's historic Stagecoach Inn. This three-day program explored the causes and consequences of the Vietnam War and its lasting impact on American life. The audience numbered more than two hundred, and presenters included historians, military leaders, former presidential advisors, psychiatrists, journalists, and anti-war activists. A November 7, 1982, article in the Dallas Morning News written by journalist Allen Pusey described the event as follows:
There was a schoolteacher form Plano, a lawyer from Santa Fe, a psychiatrist from Albany, a United Methodist minister from Killeen and a retired general who led part of the invasion of Cambodia. They were led through the experience by a history professor, a retired general, a presidential advisor, a television producer, two journalists and a poet. And among them . . . were the Vietnam veterans themselves. Each had a singular vision of the Vietnam era. With the coolness of a decade's distance, they rekindled their own images of the era. They made judgments. Not all agreed. But the fire could still be seen, burning in the distance; Vietnam has been in remission, but it has not gone away.
The presentations given at this symposium were published as a collection of essays titled Vietnam in Remission in 1985. Humanities Texas has several copies of this volume still available. Please contact our staff if you are interested in obtaining a copy.
In 1986, TCH initiated a project marking Texas's Sesquicentennial entitled "The Texas Experience." Fifty Texas scholars were commissioned to write background papers on seventy-four topics. Drawing on their work, TCH collaborated with NBC affiliate KXAS in Dallas-Fort Worth to produce fifty-two one-minute episodes on Texas history. These episodes were broadcast by sixteen network television stations and viewed by more than twenty-seven million Texans statewide. The scripts for the episodes were subsequently used to develop fifty-two newspaper articles, which were distributed to thirty-nine daily and 150 weekly newspapers across the state. The Texas Experience, published in September 1986, compiled the work of the scholars into a coffee-table book that served as a companion to the television series and articles.
Texas's economic downturn in the mid-1980s led to shrinking revenues, limited resources, and increased self-scrutiny across the state. In 1987, these concerns inspired the TCH board to focus on promoting discussion of issues related to the future of the state. Texas in the 21st Century aimed to combine the work of grantees with TCH's own work to direct Texans' attention toward the possibilities for our collective future.
The project consisted of three major components: the first was to establish study groups on topics selected by TCH at seven universities across Texas, so that a body of scholarship would be readily available and accessible for future endeavors. Over one hundred scholars participated in these groups, which culminated in a conference in Austin in November 1988 on the future of education that had over four hundred attendees.
The second component of the project was the publication of a series of essays drawn from the work of the scholars and presenters who participated in the study groups. The five-volume series Preparing for Texas in the 21st Century was published in April 1990. The series emphasized five major themes: the need for community; the need to reassess how history is taught and written; the need to broaden public understanding of major issues facing Texas; the increasing influence of globalization on Texas; and the development of public schools that can prepare citizens for the challenges of the twenty-first century.
The third component of the project was enacting outreach efforts to promote public dialogue on the future of Texas. In 1989, the TCH awarded grants for activities designed to involve citizens to dozens of institutions and organizations, including the Abilene Committee for the Humanities, the Institute of Texan Cultures, Arte Público Press, the Houston Hispanic Forum, and numerous universities across the state. The same year, the TCH also provided speakers and resource materials for organizations sponsoring programs that focused on Texas in the twenty-first century.
These early initiatives laid the groundwork for the programs and grants offered by Humanities Texas today. Indeed, much of our work aligns directly with the early days of the Texas Committee for the Humanities: we continue to circulate exhibitions to communities throughout the state, support educators by distributing teaching resources and materials, sponsor programs that encourage public dialogue about pressing issues between and among veterans and civilians, and award grants that encourage Texans to study the past while looking forward to the future.