Simon Doubleday February 6, 2020

On receiving an NEH grant….

This winter, I’m personally grateful to those who vigorously resisted proposed federal budget cuts to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). [Update, 2/10/20: Looks like we will have to do it all over again].

Over the past few years, the NEH has generously provided me with pedagogical grants for two projects: a Teaching Development Fellowship for a project entitled “The Berbers in Medieval Iberia and the Maghreb” (2011) and an ‘Enduring Questions’ grant in association with a course entitled “What is Friendship?” (2013-2017). In the company of some truly stellar scholars, including the remarkable Benedictine monk Columba Stewart, I have more recently been awarded a 12-month research fellowship (2020-21) for a project on the kingdom of León in the eleventh century, “Christian Spain before the Crusades”, in which I will be building on — and reshaping — some unpublished research by one of the pioneers in the field of medieval Iberian history, Prof. Bernard F. Reilly. The NEH has been kind to me, and to other medievalists.

But its importance goes far beyond these individual projects. In an age in which powerful interests are ranged against culture and education, the humanities and the arts become necessary theaters of resistance. New forms of tyranny draw force from vacuums of knowledge — particularly in the field of history. The misrepresentation of the history of the United States is obviously crucial, and all of us living here need to think carefully about our place in relation to its racial histories and hierarchies. But the Middle Ages has also proven to be another vibrant and contentious theater of public debate about the future, as well as the past, one in which scholars across a range of disciplines have been active. The new volume Whose Middle Ages? provides one compelling and widely-discussed contribution to this debate.

The NEH and other agencies including the NEA provide an underpinning for the vitality of our democratic culture.  Both here in the US and elsewhere, we  have to infuse all the energy at our disposal into the arts and humanities.

And P.S., university administrators:  we need to make history mandatory.