George Washington President Steven Knapp presented testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on Wednesday in support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Public witness hearings are held so that members of Congress who help decide federal agency budgets can gather information. Dr. Knapp’s testimony focused on the importance of the humanities to an educated populace, as well as to Americans’ national identity.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, chairman of the subcommittee, and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., ranking Democratic member of the subcommittee, were both present for the hearing.
“From the dawn of our nation to the present, the humanities have shaped our common identity, framed the momentous debates of the day and informed our decisions about the future,” Dr. Knapp said.
“If we as a nation forget that heritage, we will sooner or later lose our ability to understand not just the origins but the very meaning of the principles on which the nation was founded.”
Dr. Knapp cited several NEH-funded programs at GW, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, which has enabled scholars and more than 130 GW students to study millions of pages of records from all 50 states about the nation’s longest-serving first lady. From the data, widely used teaching aids about Mrs. Roosevelt’s life and work have been created.
Dr. Knapp also spoke about the NEH-funded First Federal Congress Project. The project has published 17 of a projected 22 volumes on the history of the nation’s first—and arguably most productive—Congress. The volumes are a source of detailed information for scholars, teachers and all three branches of the federal government.
“Without support from the NEH, universities like ours would not have the resources they need to sustain their role in enabling our citizens to understand our nation’s history, to cherish its core values, or to strive together to realize our shared aspirations,” Dr. Knapp said. “…I submit that the humanities are essential to the identity of this nation; to the defense of this nation; and to this nation’s ability to chart its future through reasoned debate in the light of its deepest values.”
Representatives from the Folger Shakespeare Library, Federation of State Humanities Councils, the Creative Coalition and Americans for the Arts also testified Wednesday.
Rep. Simpson told the witnesses that a major hurdle to clear is that most Americans don’t really understand why the federal government funds the arts. Advocates need to make the answer clearer and more widely known, he said.
“How can we get this message out to the American people?” Rep. Simpson said. “Math and science may be what makes a living, but it’s the arts that we live for… We’ll do everything we can to fund it.”
Dr. Knapp’s entire testimony is available online.