Feb. 10, 2016

NEH chair to deliver Society for the Humanities lecture

William Adams

William D. Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), will deliver the Society for the Humanities’ annual Future of the Humanities Lecture Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 5 p.m. in Klarman Hall Auditorium. His topic: “The Common Good and the NEH at 50.”

Both NEH and the Society for the Humanities are observing their 50th anniversaries this year, and Adams will be joined by Timothy Murray, the Taylor Family Director of the Society for the Humanities, in a celebration of the contributions both organizations have made to the national humanities over the past half century.

Cornell’s Society for the Humanities was the first residential humanities research center in the world, notes Murray, and has provided the template at national and international levels for the role of humanities centers within the university.

“We invited Bro Adams to speak both because of his position at NEH and also because he’s demonstrated a deep understanding of and commitment to the humanities as essential to education and to civic life,” says Murray.

At NEH, Adams spearheaded The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, an agencywide initiative that seeks to enhance the role of the humanities in civic life. As president of Colby College, Adams led a capital campaign that included expansion of the Colby College Museum of Art and the gift of the Lunder Collection of American Art, the creation of a center for arts and humanities and a film studies program, and expansion of the college’s curriculum in creative writing and writing across the curriculum.

Adams has served as chairman of NEH since 2014. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy at Colorado College and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz, History of Consciousness Program. He studied in France as a Fulbright scholar before beginning his career in higher education with appointments to teach political philosophy at Santa Clara University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He went on to coordinate the Great Works in Western Culture program at Stanford University and to serve as vice president and secretary of Wesleyan University. He became president of Bucknell University in 1995 and served as president of Colby College from 2000-14.

NEH, an independent federal agency, is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the U.S. The society’s golden anniversary celebration will honor recent Cornell recipients of NEH grants and fellowships, including the Society for the Humanities; Cornell University Library; Cornell University Press; Ed Baptist, professor of history; Deborah Starr, associate professor of Near Eastern studies; and Robert Travers, associate professor of history.

Linda B. Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.