We at Humanities Texas were saddened by the passing of Catherine Williams earlier this June.
Catherine played a critical role in shaping the vision and early work of our organization after its founding in 1973. She served as assistant director of what was then called the Texas Committee for the Humanities (TCH) from 1975 to 1976 while the organization was still located on the campus of The University of Texas at Arlington. She founded the Texas Humanities Resource Center—the progenitor of our current traveling exhibitions program—in 1976 and directed its operations through 1978.
Catherine rejoined the staff in 1987 as editor of the Texas Journal of Ideas, History, and Culture. She served in that position for thirteen years, during which time the magazine published thematically organized issues exploring a remarkable range of topics—the history and culture of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, the politics of water in the Southwest, the Texas literary tradition, and how museums understand and represent cultural diversity, to name just a few.
In 1999, the Texas Journal published a special issue celebrating the organization's twenty-fifth anniversary. That issue includes Catherine's essay "The Humanities and Community: A National Commitment" in which she reflects upon the emergence of the public humanities movement in the United States in the final decades of the twentieth century and looks ahead to the movement's future.
Catherine writes, the "ferment of creative and intellectual energies" is vital to all cultures and communities. In America, in the twenty-first century, she continues:
. . . the ferment of ideas will come from many places—from civic, business, and government leadership; from our schools, colleges, and universities. But it will also come from growing public realms less defined by traditional institutions. It will come, too, from those who see the future from positions of poverty, alienation, and illiteracy. It will come from disillusion as well as from satisfaction with the history and direction of our state and nation.
Thus, Catherine argues, the key goal of public humanities practitioners in the United States—and the state humanities councils, more specifically—is to provide spaces in which all Americans can share and discuss ideas and "link ourselves with the larger human community, across time, across circumstance . . . and nourish the grace of our national community."
As Humanities Texas approaches its fiftieth anniversary in 2023, we remain committed to this understanding of our work. My colleagues and I are honored to extend the legacy of Catherine and her husband Jim Veninga, leaders who first articulated the mission and vision of the organization that we now steward. We send our deepest sympathy to their family on Catherine's passing.