By Katie Lebert, Communications Assistant
March 25, 2016
Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a Government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
– George Washington’s Farewell Address, September 17, 1796 1
Last week, Research Assistant Kathryn Gehred and I attended the National Humanities Alliance’s Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. The annual two-day event teaches humanities projects across the United States how to advocate among policymakers for equal or increased funding of institutions, such as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
The first day included panels and discussions about how the humanities benefit individuals. Since I am somewhat new to the Washington Papers, I was initially nervous about how I could contribute to Advocacy Day. However, the first day’s activities instantly appealed to the humanities major in me, and aligned with the curiosity and commitment to history that I experience working at the Papers.
The opening statement of NHA President David Marshall explicitly referred to the Founding Generation and specifically to George Washington. Marshall noted that the Founders, shaped by Enlightenment ideals, thought that a well-rounded education in both the arts and sciences would cultivate thoughtful civic engagement. Marshall said, “An improvement of the mind will promote a diffusion in the protection of the liberties of the people.” Marshall’s emphasis on the importance of such an education for a republican citizenry persisted throughout the first day.
This message seemed easy to grasp. Every day, we see how context, or sometimes the lack of it, shapes the decisions of those around us. And so, we set out to provide policymakers with the context necessary to understand how the NHPRC and documentary editing projects impact public scholarship and education today.
On the second day, I met with staff members of my assigned senators and representatives. I found out quickly that the context of documentary editing projects was not only needed but desired by these staff members. At every office, I found a sincere and unique interest in history. No matter how small, the passion to learn more about our heritage was there; it was only the road they wished to take that was different.
For one staff member, our conversation about the accessibility of many of our Founders’ documents was timely. After her family had attended Hamilton the Musical, she and her daughters were interested to learn if the musical’s lyrics were similar to the words written by the characters in real life. For another staff member, it was the chance to read the documents of the First Continental Congress, an experience she related to as a government worker.
The Washington Papers is only one of many documentary editing projects that ignite the passion for our history and inherited values. We all stand poised to make an impact that can be measured in more ways than dollars.
I am proud that I could not only represent the Washington Papers on Capitol Hill but that I could also exercise my civic duty and directly advocate for the humanities with policymakers.