News and analysis
April 22, 2015

Carnegie Corporation Makes a $6-Million Statement of Faith in the Humanities

A new fellowship program dedicated to supporting the humanities and social sciences will give scholars in those disciplines a major financial boost and time to explore some of the most complex issues in society today.

Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Andrew Carnegie Fellowship program will award fellowships of up to $200,000 each, giving fellows one to two years to delve into their research and writing. Scholars, journalists, and authors are eligible for the awards. The inaugural class of fellows was announced on Wednesday, with $6.4 million to be divvied up among 32 recipients.

The rollout of the fellowship program offers some good news for advocates of the humanities, at a time of continued concern about how financial support for those disciplines stacks up against other fields.

Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation, said the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics get a lot of attention these days, but they can’t eclipse the humanities and social sciences entirely.

"The public appreciates technology. The public appreciates engineering. The public appreciates sciences. There’s nothing wrong with that," said Mr. Gregorian. "But life is not just about scientific knowledge — there’s other knowledge."

The fellows will address issues that fall within a broad realm that Carnegie calls "Current and Future Challenges to U.S. Democracy and International Order." Recipients will research such varied issues as political inequality, nuclear weapons, and racism.

The organization wrote to more than 700 individuals in calling for nominations and received more than 300, Mr. Gregorian said.

The social sciences and humanities are "absolutely critical" to understanding the world and figuring out how to tackle society’s biggest problems, said Susan Hockfield, a former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and chair of the panel of jurors that selected the fellows. But, she said, people "like metrics," and it’s not always easy to apply them to the social sciences and humanities.

With this fellowship program, she said, Carnegie Corporation has made a big statement about the importance of those disciplines.

Edward L. Ayers, president of the University of Richmond and an advocate for the humanities, said there are few financial supporters of the humanities out there, so "having a new player coming onstage with such ambitious plans can only be good news."

One thing Mr. Ayers likes about the program is that the fellows will show the utility of the humanities and social sciences in national life, which is not always obvious to some people.

David E. Bloom, one of the new fellows, called the award "the greatest gift you can give an academic, which is time." Mr. Bloom, who is a professor of economics and demography at Harvard University’s public-health school, said the fellowship would give him additional resources to pursue his work on population aging in the United States. Rising life expectancies, he said, have raised many social and economic questions that must be addressed soon.

Another member of the inaugural class of fellows, Daniel J. Tichenor, described the fellowship as a "godsend." Mr. Tichenor is a professor of social science and senior scholar at the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the University of Oregon.

"I think most of us as faculty at public universities are juggling all sorts of teaching and service along with research, and that’s particularly true in humanities and social sciences," he said. "And so for me, this means there are fewer balls in the air."

Mr. Tichenor said he would use his fellowship to continue his research on the origins and development of illegal immigration as a modern American dilemma. His work will chronicle the history of the issue and also examine the struggles of people who come into the country illegally and their families.

Casey Fabris is an editorial intern at The Chronicle of Higher Education.