Sharing the Wealth of Knowledge: 50 Years of NEH Engagement at the University of Illinois

Since its establishment in 1965, the National Endowment for the Humanities has generously supported faculty research in both core humanities disciplines and emerging interdisciplinary areas at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Here as elsewhere across the nation, NEH has been an invaluable partner in sustaining the vibrancy of intellectual life and promoting the importance of humanistic inquiry in public higher education for half a century.

This engagement has, in turn, helped to enhance the University of Illinois’ standing among world-class leaders in humanities scholarship. From history to literature, from music to material culture, from philosophy to performance ­­­­— NEH has invested generously in the pursuit of scholarly excellence in the humanities at Illinois, one of the country’s early land-grant institutions. 

In recognition of this longstanding relationship with NEH over the last five decades, what follows is a description of the wealth of knowledge made possible by NEH funding to the Urbana campus: more than 300 grants totaling more than $28 million since 1965. Harder to quantify is the impact of research that expands the horizons of the human experience.  Scholars at Illinois have asked profound questions about war, social change, and revolution. They have explored classical poetry, modern literature, and many aspects of American politics, history, and cultural experience. Their inquiries have been local and global, ancient and contemporary, philosophical and artistic, digital and analog. And Illinois humanities scholars have shared their knowledge not only in books and articles for other scholars but in institutes and summer workshops through which faculty bring a wide range of humanities topics into classrooms at all levels of the curriculum. NEH support has also helped to sustain library, art, and heritage collections built up over generations and provided opportunities to share them with the public. This wealth of knowledge belongs not just to the state of Illinois but to the nation as well. 

We are all students of the human condition. Especially at the present moment, we need deep and syncretic thinking and the visionary ideas that humanists bring to both their research and to today’s issues. NEH support has helped Illinois to develop and sustain its distinctive, pluralist approach to nurturing new knowledge in the humanities disciplines and beyond ­­— knowledge that is indispensable both to scholarly conversation and in our globalized world. As we celebrate NEH’s 50th anniversary, it is our pleasure to document the extensive and vibrant history of NEH-funded projects and research at Illinois. Together, we will continue to support our outstanding scholars and foster a public conversation about what is possible as we head into the next decades of the 21st century.

Antoinette Burton, Director, Humanities Research Institute (then-IPRH)