President and Director

Robert D. Newman
Robert D. Newman

Since assuming leadership of the National Humanities Center in 2015, Robert D. Newman has been dedicated to broadening the Center’s scholarly mission, diversity, programming and educational outreach as well as to encouraging vibrant public engagement with, and national advocacy for, the humanities.

Dr. Newman was previously dean of the College of Humanities, professor of English, and associate vice president for interdisciplinary studies at the University of Utah, where he was widely recognized for dramatically increasing support for the college, expanding its programs, and broadening campus diversity. In addition to establishing a new Humanities building on campus, he established the first country’s graduate program in Environmental Humanities and led the creation of the Taft/Nicholson Center for Environmental Humanities in Centennial Valley, Montana. He also has held faculty appointments at the University of South Carolina, where he was chair of the English Department, at Texas A&M University, and the College of William and Mary.

Dr. Newman’s scholarship has focused on twentieth-century English and American literature and culture and narrative theory. He has published six books; over a hundred articles, reviews, and poems; and has given talks throughout the world. He has received awards not only for his scholarship but also for his institutional leadership and teaching. For the past twenty years, he has been general editor of the “Cultural Frames, Framing Culture” series published by University of Virginia Press. Recently, he was celebrated as a Distinguished Alumnus at both The Pennsylvania State University, where he received his BA, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received his PhD.

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From the Director

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Robert D. Newman, “What Will the Humanities Look Like in a Decade?”

In this short essay from Inside Higher Ed, Robert D. Newman argues that to “manifest their relevance and preserve their viability” the humanities “...need to make alliances with and contributions to multidisciplinary initiatives focused on the numerous crises in humanity, not humanities. Resolutions to seemingly intractable problems require comprehensive approaches, including a humanities perspective.”

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Robert D. Newman, “Time Out with Bill Hendrickson”

Time Out with Bill Hendrickson is a weekly radio program on WCOM–LP 103.5 FM, community radio for Chapel Hill and Carrboro, NC. The show features in-depth interviews with interesting figures from education, business, sports, entertainment, and other arenas of public life. In this episode, host Bill Hendrickson interviews Robert D. Newman, president and director of the National Humanities Center.

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NHC Director Robert D. Newman Named Distinguished Alumnus at Penn State and UNC-Chapel Hill

On October 12, 2019, National Humanities Center President and Director Robert D. Newman will be honored as a distinguished alumnus of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he received his Ph.D. in English. This follows closely on the heels of another honor Newman received in April when he was the inaugural recipient of a distinguished alumnus award from the Humanities Institute at Penn State.

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Robert D. Newman, “The Humanities in the Age of Loneliness”

In this essay from the Los Angeles Review of Books, Robert D. Newman writes, “The principles grounded in the humanities—notions of character, responsibility, civility, empathy, inquiry, collaboration, the public good, the heroic, beauty, and truth—are also at the center of the revolutionary idealism which forged our Constitution. While the antidote to the Age of Loneliness is not easily conjured, it needs a political as well as scientific response—that is, it will need the lessons we can learn through the humanities.”

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“Environmental Humanities at the Crossroads of Climate Change”: A Panel Moderated by Robert D. Newman

This scholarly roundtable, featuring Center Fellows in conversation with NHC President and Director Robert D. Newman, explored the important role for humanists in ongoing public discourse about climate change. Touching on topics such as environmental justice and indigenous peoples, the economic history and lasting legacies of deforestation in Latin America, and the shift in demand for fossil fuels to support global military conflicts, these scholars discussed how the human element must be accounted for as we struggle to shape climate policies for the twenty-first century.

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Robert D. Newman, “Saving the Humanities and Ben Franklin’s Ass”

How should humanities institutions and practitioners respond to ongoing challenges to their value and significance? In this opinion piece for Inside Higher Ed, Robert D. Newman revisits a fable from Benjamin Franklin's "Apology for Printers" to argue that humanists should be wary of responding defensively to critics lest we see "a continued dwindling of the imaginative, interrogative and empathetic impulses core to the humanities."

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UNC-TV’s “Conversation”: An Interview with Robert D. Newman

In this wide-ranging interview with ​​Conversation host Mitchell Lewis, National Humanities Center​ ​President Robert D. Newman discusses the significance of the humanities in everyday life, the enduring importance of humanities scholarship, and the mission of the National Humanities Center to advance humanities research, teaching, and public engagement. This program originally aired on UNC-TV’s NC Channel on June 27, 2017.

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“Rage and Beauty: Celebrating Complexity, Democracy and the Humanities”: A Keynote Address by Robert D. Newman

On October 5, 2016, NHC director Robert D. Newman delivered a keynote address as a part of the ongoing Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Speaker Series at North Carolina Central University. ​In his remarks Newman touched on events as seemingly disparate as the workings of the Continental Congress and the social media origins of the Black Lives Matter movement and discussed the ways that the humanities help us understand the world, relate to one another, and come to terms with the most profound experiences and questions — on the nature of beauty, the search for justice, and the meaning of life in the face of horrific violence and our own mortality.

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“What Does the Future Hold for the Humanities?”: A Town Hall Meeting with Robert D. Newman

On Tuesday, February 9, NHC president and director Robert D. Newman joined Lloyd Kramer from UNC-Chapel Hill and Victoria Gallagher from NC State University to discuss the humanities’ future as part of a town hall meeting. The event, held at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC, and moderated by retired philosophy professor Clay Stalnaker, drew an engaged crowd who challenged the participants about role of the humanities in an environment that has become increasingly concerned with financial outcomes from academic activities, technologically-focused, and oriented toward the concerns of the individual rather than the common good.

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Robert D. Newman, “Humanities Moments and Modernity”

National Humanities Center President and Director Robert D. Newman was the featured guest at an event held January 14, 2016 at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC. Newman discussed the ways the humanities give meaning to our lives, shape historical events, and help address the most complex challenges of modernity.

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Robert D. Newman, “How the Humanities Give Moments Their Meaning”

Humanities moments are the unexpected miracles that provide meaning, sharpen purpose, and offer depth — profound pauses in the otherwise frantic and self-absorbed scurrying that characterizes our gettings and spendings. When the personal harmonizes with the collective, the anomalous with the essential, humanities moments occur. When we recognize their exquisite and resounding centrality, we better understand the foundation of the democratic society of which they are a product.

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Robert D. Newman Installed as President and Director of the National Humanities Center

At a celebration October 22, 2015, Robert D. Newman was installed as the sixth president and director of the National Humanities Center. In his inaugural remarks, titled “Humanities Moments and the Heroic,” Newman shared his vision for the Center as the premier destination for humanities scholars, a national leader in the effort to strengthen teaching, and a vital resource for all who seek greater understanding of themselves and the world in which they live.

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Robert D. Newman, “The Uncomfortable Responsibility of the Liberal Arts”

Friends, current research Fellows and members of the Center staff gathered recently for the annual National Humanities Center Patio Party. President Robert D. Newman, who joined the Center in July of this year, addressed the group with brief but timely remarks entitled “The Uncomfortable Responsibility of the Liberal Arts.”

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National Humanities Center Appoints New President and Director

The National Humanities Center announces the appointment of Robert D. Newman as its next President and Director. On July 1, 2015, he succeeded Geoffrey G. Harpham, who led the Center since 2003. “Robert Newman intends to continue and enhance the role of the Center as a leading voice nationally in support of the humanities,” said Center trustee William Jordan.

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Robert D. Newman, “The President as Snob”

From the GI Bill to Pell grants, higher education has provided the stepping stone to a better life for ordinary Americans. Once a bastion for the rich, scholarships and attention to access and diversity have helped colleges and universities level class distinctions, basing admissions on the promise of and ambition for self-improvement and societal contribution.

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Robert D. Newman, “The Road to Everywhere”

Education must be holistic, not piecemeal. We train students for jobs, but also for life. The liberal arts teach us to ask why we do things, an essential coupling with learning how we do things in the STEM disciplines. Our next great discoveries will come not just from those with prodigious technical skills, but from those who can imagine, compare and connect.

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Robert D. Newman, “Reviving the State of the Profession”

To elevate the status of the humanities with the general public requires a transformation in our own attitudes about our public function. Our scholarship, no less than that in science, engineering, and business, investigates the varied nuances of what it means to be human, our contexts for interpretation, and ways we can fathom and improve our destinies. These are essential real-world issues, and we need to voice them collectively before we no longer have a voice.

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Robert D. Newman, “The Virtues of Silence”

Our culture is committed to motion, enthralled by commotion and addicted to auditory accompaniment. Whether we work, exercise, drive, shop or recreate, sound propels us on our way. Seldom do we press the mute button as we channel-surf through daily routines. And when we do, usually accidentally, the result is often uncomfortable. Such pauses, after all, offer occasions to remove ourselves from the rush of what we do so we may take stock of who we are.