NEH vs. Historians





A week ago, when the National Endowment for the Humanities was asked to respond to a letter from historians and archivists questioning some recent policy shifts by the agency, an NEH spokesman called the letter “thoughtful.”

On Friday, the NEH released a formal response to the letter, calling it anything but thoughtful. Rather, the letter was characterized as containing “inaccuracies and distortions” and the scholars involved were accused of spreading “false and misleading information.”

The NEH response has further angered the historians — both for its substance and tone. Significantly, the endowment is going on record defending a policy in which what many key scholars consider a key part of peer review — analysis by experts — has been eliminated.

In addition, while the NEH says that complaints from the scholars about grant requirements were inappropriate, the endowment has changed the grant review criteria to explicitly state (as requested by the historians) that projects not be excluded for not being online and free.

Where this will leave the dispute is unclear — but if the NEH was hoping that its letter would reassure the historians, the agency is likely to be disappointed. Roger A. Bruns, president of the Association for Documentary Editing, the group that has led the protest to the NEH, said in an interview that he was stunned by the agency’s response. He said that while the agency was accusing historians of making distortions, it had not identified a single error of fact.

“Their policies are putting our projects in jeopardy, and all we were asking for was a meeting to talk about this, and they fire back with this insulting letter,” said Bruns. “They know that there are a whole lot of people concerned and complaining, and they don’t answer the concerns. I resent this response and don’t understand why they are doing this.”

The dispute that brought historical groups into conflict with the NEH concerns a relatively small, but important program — Scholarly Editions Grants — but scholars say that the underlying concerns affect the endowment’s programs as a whole....

Related Links

  • Historians and Humanities Endowment Clash Over Changes in Review Process for Grants (Chronicle of Higher Education)


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