Texas Committee for the Humanities (Humanities Texas)

By: James F. Veninga

Type: General Entry

Published: December 1, 1995

Updated: August 13, 2020

In 1965 the Eighty-ninth Congress of the United States passed the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act (Public Law 209). This act established within the foundation a National Endowment for the Arts and a National Endowment for the Humanities. Congress encouraged both endowments to decentralize at least a portion of their funding. By 1972 the NEH decided that private, nonprofit citizen committees afforded the best opportunity for promoting the humanities in the individual states. In May 1972 the NEH invited four Texans to a two-day conference in Washington to be briefed on NEH's state program. These individuals were Thomas B. Brewer, vice chancellor of Texas Christian University; Levi A. Olan, Dallas rabbi and former member of the University of Texas Board of Regents; Emmet Field, vice president of academic affairs at the University of Houston; and David M. Vigness, chairman of the department of history at Texas Tech University. Following this meeting, the group held a series of meetings in Dallas to discuss implementing such a program in Texas. Through the leadership of Thomas Brewer, the group, constituted as the Texas Committee for the Humanities, applied for and received a $20,000 planning grant from the NEH. Operations began on January 1, 1973.

The board next conducted a series of regional conferences. Since NEH required all state humanities committees to focus on the relationship between the humanities and public policy issues, the group was renamed the Texas Committee for the Humanities and Public Policy. The first implementation grant request was submitted to the NEH on June 15, 1973, requesting funds for administration, program development, and support of local grant projects. A $170,000, eighteen-month grant was approved, effective October 1, 1973. The TCH board employed a director, Sandra L. Myres, a member of the history faculty at the University of Texas at Arlington. The first grant was awarded in January 1974 to KUT-FM, Austin, for a series of weekly two-hour radio programs focusing on the Texas Constitutional Revision Convention. Articles of association for the organization were signed on March 18, 1976, and remained in effect until September 5, 1985, when the Texas Committee for the Humanities was incorporated under the laws of Texas. The Internal Revenue Service granted tax-exempt status on August 25, 1976. The Texas Humanities Resource Center (THRC) opened on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington in 1978, which provided both office space and some support services. So that it would be closer to allied statewide organizations and to state government, the TCH moved its office from Arlington to Austin in June 1980. The TCH operated as a private nonprofit corporation 1986 to 1992, when it merged with the state humanities council.

The governor of Texas makes five appointments to the board for two-year terms. The other members-with nearly equal representation between academic and public sectors-are elected by the board as vacancies occur. These vacancies are announced to the public. Bylaws require a board that is representative of the entire state. Nongubernatorial members serve terms of office of three years, with the possibility that members may be reelected to a second three-year term. The board is organized into working subcommittees: the Executive Subcommittee (composed of the officers and the immediate past chairman), the Nominations and Elections Subcommittee, the Annual Program Emphasis Subcommittee, the Long-Range Planning Subcommittee, and the Mini-Grant Review Subcommittee. Aside from Mini-Grant applications, the entire board reads all proposals submitted for funding. Special subcommittees are appointed from time to time. The committee has been served by the following chairmen: Thomas Brewer (1973–75); A. J. Carlson, dean of humanities, Austin College (1976–77); Alan Taniguchi, architect (1978–79); Edmund Pincoffs, professor of philosophy, University of Texas at Austin (1980); Betty Anderson, past president, League of Women Voters of Texas (1981); Roy Mersky, professor of law and director of research, University of Texas School of Law (1982); Archie McDonald, professor of history, Stephen F. Austin State University (1983); Bob Bowman, corporate manager of public relations, Delta Drilling Company (1984); Rene D. Zentner, associate dean, University of Houston Law Center (1985); and William P. Wright, Jr., chairman, Western Marketing, Incorporated (1986–87). Sandra L. Myres served as executive director from 1973 to 1975. James F. Veninga was appointed executive director in 1975, followed by Monte Youngs in 1999, and Michael L. Gillette in 2003.

Congress, in its 1976 reauthorizing legislation, encouraged committees to undertake other kinds of humanities projects than those relating to public policy. Since that time, the TCH has funded numerous projects in traditional humanities subjects as well as in Texas history and culture. In recognition of this shift, the organization was renamed the Texas Committee for the Humanities in 1978. From 1973 to 1982 the committee's federal resources grew dramatically as Congress increased appropriations annually to the NEH. From 1983 to 1985 federal funding remained stabilized, although the committee received increased support from foundations and corporations. In 1986 TCH revenues were cut almost in half when federal funding dropped significantly and private sector support-weakened by the collapse of the Texas economy-diminished. Changes in funding have altered the committee's program. From 1981 to 1985, through a combination of federal and private funding, the TCH was able to implement a number of projects on its own. It established a task force in 1981 to issue a report, Toward Thoughtful, Active Citizens: Improving the Public School Curriculum (1982); it inaugurated an annual Texas Lecture and Symposium on the Humanities; it took steps to publish a significant public humanities magazine, Texas Humanist (later renamed Texas Journal of Ideas, History, and Culture); and it made plans for a major Texas Sesquicentennial project for newspapers and television stations, The Texas Experience. Federal and private revenues could not sustain many of these projects. Therefore, the TCH began to place increasing emphasis on its grant program as the primary means to meet established objectives.

The mission of the TCH is to stimulate public interest in the humanities. Toward accomplishing this it has established five major programs. Through its Grant Program it awards approximately $500,000 a year to fifty organizations for public humanities projects (conferences, symposia, lectures, interpretive exhibits, public radio and television programming, and similar efforts.) Through the Texas Humanities Resource Center, quality packaged programs (photographic exhibits, films and print resources, etc.) are made available to communities across the state, with small museums, libraries, or historical societies frequently serving as sponsors. The THRC merged with TCH in 1992. Committee-sponsored projects, such as the annual Texas Lecture and Symposium on the Humanities, are designed to demonstrate the importance of the humanities to public life. The Texas Journal of Ideas, History and Culture is the primary means whereby the TCH communicates with its statewide constituency. The magazine, with a circulation of 10,500, provides information on TCH projects and on news and developments within the humanities. It is published in the spring and fall of each year. The Annual Program Emphasis of the TCH unites the work of some grantees with efforts undertaken directly by the TCH on subjects of particular importance to Texas. The Texas Humanities Alliance, established in 1986, is a support group of contributing members whose primary mission is to assist the TCH in advancing the study of the humanities in Texas. The alliance publishes the Texas Humanities Newsletter quarterly. In addition to these primary programs, the TCH releases occasional books, drawn from TCH projects, through Texas A&M University Press. By 1987 five books had been published in the TCH series.

In 1983 the NEH instituted a competitive awards program for state committees. The TCH received two exemplary project awards, one for the "Texas Myths" emphasis in 1984 ($45,000), and one for "The Mexican Legacy of Texas" emphasis in 1986 ($65,000). The Shell Oil Companies Foundation and the Hoblitzelle Foundation provided funding for the TCH sesquicentennial project, “The Texas Experience.” It also received a merit award for overall excellence in programming from the NEH in 1986 in the amount of $50,000. Future projects for the TCH include instituting cultural and scholarly exchange programs with Mexico and developing undergraduate curriculum in the colleges and universities of Texas. Recent grants given by the TCH include the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture for teachers' and principals' institutes, an international traveling exhibit in El Paso on the diary of Anne Frank and the Nazi holocaust, and a symposium at Baylor University on the implications of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In 1994 the TCH received $950,000 from the NEH. For 1993–95 the TCH had two special themes, "Understanding Other Nations," and "Building the New Texas," which focused on the environment, health care, and literacy.

In 1996 the organization became the Texas Council for the Humanities, and lost nearly six percent of its federal funding due to larger budget cuts within the NEH. Nonetheless, the THRC Center launched an initiative to improve electronic resources with Humanities Interactive with funding from the Meadows Foundation, the Houston Endowment, and NEH. The Brown Foundation provided funding for Texas Journal of Ideas, History and Culture, the council’s magazine, from 1977 until 2001. The T. L. L. Temple Foundation and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., funded the Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Awards program, while the Trull Foundation financially supported workshops for teachers. By 2003 the THRC held more than 2,860 programs in 247 communities, which included seventy-five exhibitions and a library of more than four hundred films and videos. On January 1, 2004, the organization changed its name to Humanities Texas. In December 2006, the organization purchased the Byrne-Reed House, a century-old mansion in downtown Austin, for use as the new central office. The organization published a semi-regular newsletter, Humanities: The Newsletter of the Texas Council for the Humanities, until the 2007 publication of a monthly e-newsletter renamed Humanities: The Newsletter of Humanities Texas. Governor David Dewhurst expanded the Humanities Texas Teacher Enrichment Program with state funding in 2009, and the following year the organization received over $1.4 million to support twelve summer teacher institutes and thirteen one day workshops. In 2010 Humanities Texas raised over $5 million to fully restore the Byrne-Reed House. The organization received $500,000 annually from state funding in 2012 and 2013.

Texas Committee for the Humanities, Minutes of Board Meetings.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

James F. Veninga, “Texas Committee for the Humanities (Humanities Texas),” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-committee-for-the-humanities-humanities-texas.

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December 1, 1995
August 13, 2020