The Michigan Humanities Council, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, opened its doors in 1974 to begin public humanities programming. Over 40 years ago the idea of public humanities was a novel concept because the humanities had traditionally been associated with university study in departments such as English, philosophy, ethics, and the other areas termed the liberal arts. But public humanities were meant to draw communities into the humanities rather than leave the field to academicians. This brave new world of collaborations between town and gown, between the National Endowment for the Humanities and state organizations was daunting, but it catalyzed a vigorous examination of what the humanities mean to contemporary life.
Throughout its life, the Michigan Humanities Council has understood that the humanities teach us what it means to be human. They illuminate the lessons of the past, the ideas that motivate us, the principles that guide us, and the questions that perplex us. For over 40 years, the Council has served a central idea: that democracy depends upon educated and thoughtful citizens who fully participate in civic life. There is no clearer statement of this value than that provided by Bruce Cole, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities: “Cultivating the best of the humanities has real, tangible benefits for civic life. We cannot neglect the great democratic imperative: to give each succeeding generation a brighter light, a broader perspective, and an enriched legacy with which to face the future.” The Michigan Humanities Council looks forward to the next 40+ years of serving just such a vision of civil life.