This month, in celebration of our golden anniversary, we are highlighting Humanities Texas's efforts to support humanities instruction in the state's schools over the past five decades.
Our teacher professional development institutes as they exist today started in 2004, but work in education began much earlier for the Texas Committee for the Humanities (TCH), as Humanities Texas was known from 1978–1996. In 1981, the TCH established a task force on Humanities in the Public Schools of Texas. It was comprised of board members, teachers and administrators, university faculty, a state representative, a member of the Texas Association of School Boards, and a representative of the corporate community.
The task force reviewed the existing curriculum of six school districts—Austin, Athens, Junction, Midland, Rio Grande City, and Houston—and provided recommendations for future changes to the state's public school curriculum. The report that TCH Executive Director James F. Veninga drafted for the task force, Toward Thoughtful, Active Citizens: Improving the Public School Curriculum (1982), offered eleven recommendations for improving public education and the teaching of humanities subjects, including that Texas colleges and universities strengthen entrance requirements, since those requirements exert significant influence upon the curriculum in public schools.
In 1990, the TCH turned its attention to higher education. The council worked closely with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in consultation with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), to sponsor a conference and publication focused on the state's undergraduate curriculum and the development of core curriculum. Proceedings of the 1990 conference were later published by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Before merging with the Texas Committee for the Humanities in 1992, the Texas Humanities Resource Center (THRC) operated as an independent entity, circulating traveling exhibitions, media projects, and educational materials. In 1996, the THRC, then a division of the TCH, launched a groundbreaking online resource called Humanities Interactive. Developed in the early years of the World Wide Web, Humanities Interactive used new media to engage teachers and students in a broad range of humanities topics, including the history of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, the history and culture of the Middle East, African art, and the works and legacy of William Shakespeare. Content from more than forty TCH traveling exhibitions formed the site's core. THRC staff developed slide shows, essays, and even games and interactive quizzes to support use of Humanities Interactive in the classroom. Not long after its launch, the resource was being used by teachers and students around the world.
Supported with significant grants from NEH, the Meadows Foundation, and the Houston Endowment, Humanities Interactive won prestigious awards for innovative use of new media in humanities instruction. The THRC soon organized one-week "Teaching with Technology" summer workshops in partnership with the state's leading colleges and universities centered on exhibitions and resources included in Humanities Interactive. In 1997, workshops focused on Border Studies, a collection of nine exhibitions, were held in El Paso, Laredo, and Edinburg. In 1998, "Texas History, Texas Cultures" workshops took place in Dallas, Snyder, and Temple.
In 2004, Humanities Texas launched our current teacher professional development program, which provides the state's teachers opportunities to study with leading humanities scholars and gain effective classroom strategies and resources. Exploring topics at the heart of the state's humanities curricula in U.S. history and government, Texas history, language arts, and media literacy, these content-rich institutes and workshops are free to teachers and their schools.
The first program we held with this new approach was the June 2004 "Institute on Congress and American History," developed in partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration, the Briscoe Center for American History, the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, and the LBJ Presidential Library. Funded by an NEH We the People grant, the institute brought forty-nine faculty members and forty-six Texas teachers representing every Texas congressional district to Austin for a five-day professional development program. U.S. Senator John Cornyn, Secretary of the Senate Emily Reynolds, and Curator Emeritus James Ketchum represented the U.S. Senate, while the U.S. House of Representatives was represented by the Deputy Clerk and Deputy Parliamentarian Thomas Duncan. The faculty also included historians, political scientists, officers and former members of Congress, and journalists.
The institute's interdisciplinary curriculum featured presentations on the origins of the legislative branch, the First Congress and the Bill of Rights, the War of 1812, the Tariff of Abominations, the Compromise of 1850, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, McCarthyism, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Additional sessions examined representation, oversight, the power of the purse, war powers, and other features of Congress. To stimulate creative, interdisciplinary approaches to the subject, there were presentations on Congress in literature and art and on technological resources for teaching about Congress.
All of the teachers who attended the program found it both intellectually and professionally valuable, with several describing it as the most meaningful professional development experience of their careers. One teacher emphasized that the "tremendous in-depth presentation of information" set the Humanities Texas program apart from other professional development workshops available to the state's history teachers. "So often we have in-service workshops on strategies," he noted. "Knowledge is so beneficial and empowering." Another wrote that the program "provided eminently useful materials and contacts, and the format made us feel like professional educators who have a valuable contribution to make to our students, communities, and our country."
In the five years following "The Institute on Congress and American History," Humanities Texas gradually expanded our professional development programs. Between 2005 and 2009, we continued holding institutes each summer for teachers of Texas and U.S. history. Programs included "Gateway on the Gulf: Galveston and American Immigration, 1845–1915" (2005), "Southwest Vistas: The Border in American History" (2006), "The West and the Shaping of America" (2007), "From Disunion to Empire: The United States, 1850–1900" (2008), and "The U.S. Constitution and American History" (2009). Programs continued to emphasize close interaction with scholars, the examination of primary sources, and the development of effective pedagogical strategies and engaging assignments and activities. Teachers attending these programs had the opportunity to study with some of the nation's most acclaimed scholars, including H. W. Brands, Daniel Walker Howe, Jacqueline Jones, David M. Kennedy, David M. Oshinsky, Jack N. Rakove, Heather Cox Richardson, Vicki L. Ruiz, Quintard Taylor, and David J. Weber.
In 2010, Humanities Texas's capacity to serve teachers statewide was transformed when we received our first-ever state appropriation. State funding enabled us to begin holding institutes and one-day workshops throughout the year, significantly increasing the number of programs we hold and the number of teachers we serve. Between 2010 and the onset of the pandemic in 2020, we conducted 221 programs in twenty-five Texas cities—not just major metropolitan areas such as Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, but also smaller communities such as Abilene, Beaumont, Brownsville, Kilgore, Laredo, Lubbock, Lufkin, and Midland. Our institutional partners included the state's universities libraries, archives, museums, and humanities organizations. More than 5,000 teachers participated.
During this period, our programs for history teachers continued to feature remarkable breadth and depth of coverage. Programs covered the American colonial experience, westward expansion, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the civil rights movement, and American wars from the Revolution to Vietnam. Meanwhile, our Texas history programs examined the full scope of the state's history, from the era of Paleo-Indians to the profound political and cultural changes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
State support also enabled Humanities Texas to begin holding programs for teachers in other disciplines. In 2014, we offered "Understanding the Federal Government," the first of our workshops for government teachers. Other programs in this area have included "Teaching the U.S. Constitution," "Understanding Congress," and "Landmark Supreme Court Cases."
At the same time, we also began to hold programs for the state's English language arts teachers, helping them develop their students' reading, writing, and communication skills. The first of these programs was "Teaching the American Literary Tradition," our 2014 summer institute held in partnership with The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts and the Harry Ransom Center. Faculty lectures and seminars examined writings throughout American literary history, including works by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Zora Neale Hurston, immigrant writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, canonical and noncanonical writers of the 1920s, and Latino/a writers of the twentieth century. Since then, our English language arts programs have addressed such topics as the plays of William Shakespeare, American writing on the Civil War, the Harlem Renaissance, and the literature of the American Southwest.
In 2018, we established a partnership with UT Austin's Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk to train teachers in evidence-based approaches to teaching reading. In 2021, we introduced the fourth and final strand in our program portfolio—media literacy—with programs providing not only insight into the evolution of journalism and news in U.S. history but also practical strategies for teaching students how to become critical consumers of multiple media.
A complete list of the institutes and workshops we have held to date—with the topics, materials, and resources addressed in each—is available on our website.
In response to the pandemic, in March and April of 2020 Humanities Texas quickly transitioned our teacher programs to an online format. Over the late spring and summer of that year, Humanities Texas held thirteen webinars and seven multi-day institutes, totaling more than sixty scholarly presentations and serving nearly two thousand teachers in all corners of the state. The teachers in attendance represented all of Texas's thirty-six U.S. congressional districts, worked in 269 of the state's 1,227 school districts, and taught more than 150,000 Texas students each year.
Transitioning to an online format significantly increased the program's accessibility to teachers statewide and taught Humanities Texas staff the value of online programs. Online programming also facilitated the development of new institutional partnerships. During this period, we established important relationships with the Stanford History Education Group, the National Constitution Center, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, connecting Texas teachers with the resources and experts of those prestigious institutions.
In November 2020, the Federation of State Humanities Councils awarded Humanities Texas the Helen and Martin Schwartz Prize for humanities programs developed or adapted as a direct response to the coronavirus pandemic. Judges praised Humanities Texas's online teacher professional development programs for their impressive reach and scope as well as their sustainability. One judge noted that, "While working within the confines of the pandemic, Humanities Texas created a series of high-quality, virtual professional development programs for K–12 teachers that actually expanded the council's reach. . . In years to come, this model will help Humanities Texas expand its offerings, substantively improving K–12 humanistic education in Texas."
Humanities Texas resumed in-person teacher programs in the summer of 2022. Today, we continue to hold a combination of online and in-person teacher institutes and workshops throughout the year and throughout the state. No other organization provides Texas teachers with rigorous, scholar-driven training in the humanities on such a scale. Participants consistently report that the programs have expanded their mastery of the humanities content they teach, provided access to new humanities scholarship and resources, and ultimately improved their students' engagement and performance. Our 2019 promotional video, filmed during the 2018 "America in the 1920s and 1930s" summer institute, captures the essence of what makes these programs so professionally and personally meaningful to the teachers who attend.
Since 2004, more than seven thousand Texas teachers representing more than half of the state's 1,300 school districts have participated in our three-day residential institutes, one-day workshops, and online programs. Texas teachers now regard Humanities Texas as the state's premier provider of professional development in the humanities.
We recently announced our upcoming 2023 summer teacher programs, which include in-person institutes in Austin, College Station, and Houston and online programs focused on evidence-based reading practices and primary source pedagogy. Learn more and apply now!
Video filmed during the 2018 "America in the 1920s and 1930s" summer institute held at the LBJ Presidential Library featuring testimonials from teachers and scholars who have participated in our education programs over the years.