The Boston University Center for the Humanities, previously known as the Boston University Humanities Foundation, was established in 1981 following the award of a $1 million National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Challenge Grant to the College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School. The funds raised to match that grant began an endowment that has grown steadily over the decades and now enables us to support a wide range of awards and activities. The Center has a part-time faculty Director and one full-time staff Administrator; it is governed by a faculty Executive Committee appointed by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
For the first 24 years of its existence, the Foundation’s only fellowships were for junior faculty in the humanities. Those fellowships have given many junior faculty the gift of time at a moment in their careers when they urgently need to complete publication projects in order to qualify for tenure, and the program continues today. Beginning in 2005, the Foundation began to award fellowships to senior faculty as well, allowing those chosen to extend a one-term sabbatical to a full year, or to secure a semester for urgently-needed research or writing between sabbaticals. The BU faculty who hold our semester-long fellowships are chosen by the Executive Committee in a rigorous selection process strongly driven by the quality of their careers and of their specific proposals.
In 2012, the newly-renamed Humanities Center moved into a greatly expanded space that includes offices for the current fellows. Our ability to gather disparate faculty into one place has significantly increased the cohesion of our intellectual community, which meets formally six or seven times each term for a discussion of work in progress. Beginning in the fall of 2014, the BUCH will award several fellowships each year to graduate students in the final stages of writing their dissertations. We believe that adding graduate students to our community will be of great benefit to all parties.
Throughout its life, the Center has also funded “humanities enhancement projects” originating with groups of faculty. These include lecture series, discussion groups, exhibitions, performances, conferences, and visits by scholars from other universities. In choosing which projects to fund, the Executive Committee has favored proposals involving more than one department. Some of the programs we fund, such as the Institute for Philosophy and Religion, provide sustained, well-organized opportunities for faculty and students in different fields to engage with each other’s work; other events, such as conferences, encourage discourse between our faculty and scholars from around the world. During one recent year, events funded by BUCH hosted 32 foreign visitors from 15 different countries.
We have also sought to encourage programs attractive to the wider community. A series of lunches for alumni, “Arts, Culture, and Ideas,” planned and executed by the Center and the CAS Alumni Relations office, presents programs featuring Fellows of the Center. Recent programs of community outreach that we have funded at the request of BU faculty include a yearly conference for teachers of Latin, organized by the Department of Classical Studies, the annual BU Theatre Marathon, and such discrete events as an international conference on the composer Olivier Messiaen, which involved the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or the “Drawing Towards Home” exhibition, which involved local societies for architectural preservation.
At the conclusion of each academic year, the BUCH awards prizes to undergraduate and graduate students who have distinguished themselves in the humanities; these prizes are supported by specific, named endowment funds given for that purpose. We also have designated funds for library acquisitions, which have helped faculty members secure rare books and useful databases relevant to their own research, which then reside in the library for all to use.
BUCH is a member of the National Humanities Alliance, which lobbies on behalf of humanities funding at the federal level, and the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, which includes over 300 similar centers at other institutions, the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle NC, and the Folger Institute in Washington, DC.