Restoring Our Vitality: The Heart of the Matter and the Future of the Humanities - National Humanities Center

Coming Events

Restoring Our Vitality: The Heart of the Matter and the Future of the Humanities

December 12, 2022

photo of the American flag

February–April 2023

Restoring Our Vitality: The Heart of the Matter and the Future of the Humanities

In the wake of a global pandemic, amid festering social and political divisions, and with trust in higher education and other institutions ebbing, how might the humanities meaningfully improve life in twenty-first-century America? What actions must humanists take in research, teaching, and public outreach to create a stronger, more vibrant society?

Restoring Our Vitality is a series of events celebrating the ten-year anniversary of the landmark Heart of the Matter report and reflecting on the issues it raised about the state of the humanities and social sciences. Presented in partnership with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, these events will ponder current challenges facing humanities institutions and practices, considering how we might forge a path forward using the humanities to build more innovative and resilient communities inside the academy and beyond.

After two virtual panel discussions during February and March, this series will culminate on April 4th, when the National Humanities Center will present a panel discussion featuring renowned writer Amitav Ghosh, NEH Chair Shelly Lowe, American historian Nancy MacLean (William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy, Duke University) and NHC President and Director Robert D. Newman. An evening keynote address from Mr. Ghosh at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University will follow.

  • photo of Amitav Ghosh

    Amitav Ghosh

  • photo of Shelly Lowe

    Shelly Lowe

  • photo of Nancy MacLean

    Nancy MacLean

  • photo of Robert Newman

    Robert D. Newman

All sessions are free and open to the public, but registration is required. We look forward to your participation in these essential conversations.


February 13, 2023
3:00–4:30pm ET

Panel Discussion: “Reforming the Academic Reward System” (virtual)

How can institutions of higher education reimagine their protocols for faculty advancement to account for the increasing importance of public engagement, collaborative research, and to recognize new interdisciplinary models of intellectual inquiry across humanities fields? Panelists will include Karida L. Brown (Professor of Sociology, Emory University), Jeffrey Cohen (Dean of Humanities, Arizona State University), and Elizabeth (Elee) Wood (Nadine and Robert A. Skotheim Director of Education and Public Programs, The Huntington Library).

March 1, 2023
3:00–4:30pm ET

Panel Discussion: “Humanistic Dimensions of Environmental Advocacy” (virtual)

In recent years, the urgency and centrality of the climate crisis has shaped a range of humanistic discourses, from literary eco-criticism to environmental histories to philosophical considerations of species’ coexistence. At the same time, environmental advocacy work is benefiting from the direction of young leaders bringing their humanistic backgrounds to bear on critical issues related to conservation and environmental justice. In this discussion, we will consider the role that the humanities can and should play in our collective efforts to preserve the health of our planet and build equitable communities. Panelists will include Brooke Larsen (Community Engagement Coordinator, University of Utah Environmental Humanities Program), Cameron Oglesby (environmental justice storyteller and advocate; Master of Public Policy candidate, Duke University) and Emily Sample (Program Director, Fund for Peace).

March 30, 2023
6:00–7:15pm ET

Danielle Allen, “The Humanities and the Rise of the Terabytes” (virtual and in-person at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Cambridge, MA)

What has happened to the humanities in the ten years since the Heart of the Matter report was published, and what might we do to better support them in the future? Harvard professor Danielle Allen, a member of the Commission that authored the report, will reflect on the humanities as a historical and contemporary practice in an age of digital superabundance. Following her remarks, PBS arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown will join her for a conversation exploring practical applications for the humanities, what works and what doesn’t for asserting their value, and their role in contemporary political debates and culture wars.

April 4, 2023
3:00–4:30pm ET

Panel Discussion: “Planning Inclusive Futures: The Next Decade of the Humanities” (virtual and in-person at the National Humanities Center)

As we think about the future, our situation seems increasingly dire—authoritarianism surging around the globe; accelerating ravages from climate change; deepening political, economic, and cultural divides. Can the humanities help us resolve these challenges and bring us together? Can they help us forge a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable world? Moderator Robert D. Newman (President and Director, National Humanities Center), acclaimed author Amitav Ghosh (The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable; The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis), Shelly Lowe (Chair, National Endowment for the Humanities), and Nancy MacLean (William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy, Duke University) will ask these questions and others as they ponder what the next ten years hold for the humanities and for us all.

April 4, 2023
7:00–8:30pm ET

Amitav Ghosh, “Can the Non-Human Speak? Other Beings in Myth, Literature and Ethnography” (in-person at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library, North Carolina State University)

On the face of it, the question “Can the non-human speak?” is an absurdity. Yet it is one of the essential questions of our era of accelerating man-made climate change. At this moment in time, when we look back on the history that has brought us to the point of a planetary catastrophe, we cannot but recognize that our plight is in large part a consequence of the ways in which certain classes of humans have actively muted all other beings by representing them as brutes; that is to say, creatures whose presence on earth is solely material. This lecture looks at some of the ways in which non-human consciousness figures in various narrative traditions.


Thanks to generous support from our sponsors, this conference is offered free of charge. However, registration is required to access the virtual events.
Please note: Registration for the March 30th event with Danielle Allen is available separately through the American Academy of Arts & Sciences website. Registration for the April 4th evening lecture with Amitav Ghosh is available separately through North Carolina State University’s Eventbrite platform.

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