Humanities for All: Political Science and International Relations

By Daniel Fisher, Project Director, National Humanities Alliance

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As campuses across the country fill with the renewed energy of the fall semester, it is a good time to pause to reflect on how we make the case for the value of the humanities at institutions of higher education. The question is particularly pressing in light of newly-released data from the Pew Research Center that shows that roughly six-in-ten Americans (61 percent) believe U.S. higher education is “headed in the wrong direction.” Among a range of concerns, 73 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of Democrats believe that students are not being prepared to succeed in the workplace.

While the Pew survey was not focused on the humanities specifically, its results highlight the challenges that advocates for the humanities in higher education face today. To combat concerns about preparation for the workforce, we can and should show that studying the humanities cultivates critical skills that have led to success in a wide range of career paths—with strong earnings and high levels of job satisfaction. It is also important to show that the benefits of studying the humanities extend beyond the market—facilitating engaged citizenship and a life well-lived.

At the same time, the Pew survey results point to a more general need to reframe the conversation about the value and direction of higher education: to make the claim that higher education institutions serve not just individual students but also, and increasingly, their surrounding communities. Case-making for the humanities should include rich examples of how publicly-oriented humanities projects enrich life in the U.S.: building and strengthening communities; creating innovative and practical learning experiences for students and people of all ages and backgrounds; and broadening our understanding of ourselves, our nation, and our world.

To highlight the public impact of the humanities in higher education, the National Humanities Alliance recently launched Humanities for All: a website that documents the past 10 years of publicly engaged humanities research, teaching, and programming in universities and colleges across the U.S. The website presents a cross-section of over 1,400 projects, searchable, sortable, and illustrated with 51 in-depth profiles. When viewed together, these initiatives illustrate the broad impact of the humanities beyond higher education.

Humanities for All not only seeks to broaden narratives about the humanities in higher education but also to deepen the practice of public engagement in the humanities. We at NHA have a stake in encouraging more of this work, which provides more opportunities for members of the public to have humanities experiences and appreciate the significance of the humanities in higher education. In addition, when integrated into coursework, engaged humanities projects can provide meaningful and practical learning experiences that prepare students for the workforce. To this end, we present these examples as a resource for all who would like to begin or deepen their practice of public engagement.

Examples of engagement abound in Political Science and International Relations,  all of which can inform our humanities case-making and practice.

Consider “The United States and the Middle East: Using the Lessons of History to Engage Policymakers” an in-class production of a policy brief on US involvement in the Middle East directed by Annie Tracy Samuel at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga which was sent to local senators and representatives.

Another example is “The Great Society Congress” an online exhibit from the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress which partnered with the University of Georgia, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Virginia, the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, the University of Kansas, West Virginia University, New York University, the University of Delaware, Indiana University, the University of South Carolina-Columbia, Middle Tennessee State University, National Archives and Records Administration, Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, and the United States Senate Historical Office.

We encourage you to visit Humanities for All to explore engaged humanities projects like these. To help us present the breadth of the field, Humanities for All also welcomes users to contribute new examples of publicly engaged humanities work in the U.S. via the website’s submissions portal. More broadly, we would appreciate your consideration: How can Humanities for All inform your humanities case-making and practice?

About the Author: Daniel Fisher is a project director and postdoctoral fellow at the National Humanities Alliance Foundation. Prior to joining NHA, he held fellowships at the École Biblique and the Albright Institute in Jerusalem. He holds a B.A. from McGill University, an M.A. from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught and co-curated a publicly-engaged research-driven exhibition. Fisher can be reached at dfisher@nhalliance.org.

Primary Elections: The Value of an Endorsement

Primary election

By Chapman Rackaway of the University of West Georgia

How involved should political party leaders get in primary elections? Should a President endorse a primary candidate, despite standards of public party neutrality? Party organizations were once used to determine nominees internally in caucuses or conventions, with elite leaders choosing nominees they believed best represented the party. Primary elections disrupted that process. Now the general public, even those not loyal to the party, could help choose nominees. Outsiders such as, say, Donald Trump, can contest and even win party nominations over the wishes of party leaders. In the Primary Era, party leaders and elites have generally chosen to remain publicly silent (if often supportive behind-the-scenes) during nomination contests. The involvement of President Donald Trump in Republican primaries this year is thus an important development.

Whether it’s a prominent celebrity, organized interest, or popular elected official, candidates love to get endorsements. The value of an endorsement might seem minimal, but sometimes they matter. Not all endorsements are created equal. Primary elections put parties in a difficult place: party elites, focused on general election success, value electability. When party leaders do have primary influence, as Democrats do in Presidential nominations with superdelegates, losing candidates complain of the system being “rigged” against them. Bernard Sanders’ supporters made that very complaint after his 2016 loss to Hillary Clinton. Party organizations can struggle to unify behind nominees after divisive primaries, making the safest option in primaries non-participation.

No sitting President has before endorsed candidates in party primaries. But Donald Trump’s involvement in two gubernatorial primaries – Georgia and Kansas – show us the power of the endorsement and what it means for the parties.

In Georgia, a five-way open contest for the open Republican nomination produced no majority winner and a July runoff between Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Cagle would normally have been considered a near-lock to succeed in the runoff against Kemp. Cagle only needed to activate the same 39% of voters and win another eleven percent among supporters of the also-rans to secure the nomination. Cagle appeared in polls to be well ahead of Kemp when one of the also-ran candidates, Clay Tippins, released a recording where Cagle admitted to playing politics with another candidate. Cagle had supported a bill he would normally not to force the candidates running from state Senate seats into a difficult vote. The Tippins recording hurt Cagle, bringing his lead down to single digits. When Trump endorsed Kemp a week before the vote, though, he surged from a near-tie to an almost forty percentage point victory.

Leading candidates in runoffs rarely lose, about as rarely as party leaders publicly involve themselves in a race. As Hans Hassell shows in “Party Control of Party Primaries: Party Influence in Nominations for the US Senate” (2015), party leadership tend to get their favored candidates nominated but do so behind-the-scenes. Trump not only endorsed a candidate but supported the candidate seen as less-comfortable with Georgia’s GOP leadership.

A day before the Kansas primary, the President endorsed another sitting Secretary of State seeking a governorship, Kris Kobach. Trump’s endorsement of Kobach was expected because Kobach and Trump have a history of mutual support. Kobach was an early supporter of Trump’s 2016 campaign, served on the President’s ill-fated Election Assistance Commission, was under consideration for a cabinet post, and has had Donald Trump Jr. host fundraisers for him.

Trump’s Kobach endorsement was noteworthy because it was given where an incumbent governor was running. Not only did Trump violate the norm against elected and party leadership insinuating themselves in primaries, Trump again went against established party leadership.

Trump’s support didn’t have the massive impact on Kobach’s vote total as it appeared to have with Kemp. Pro-Trump voters were likely already aligned with Kobach, and he won a narrow victory over incumbent Jeff Colyer.

Regardless of the outcome of the Kansas gubernatorial primary, the result for parties is the same: party elected officials are now actively engaged in primary endorsements. The norm of party neutrality in primaries has been violated. Candidates will see Kemp’s and Kobach’s success and want the President or another high-ranking party leader to endorse them in their primary. The idea of a party that waits for the public to decide their nominee and then rallies to support that nominee has been retired. Trump’s precedent may open the door to more primary endorsements, changing the role of the party in nomination contests irretrievably. How will parties respond to the increased demand for their favor during their primaries? The answer could have long-reaching implications for future primaries.

About the author: Chapman Rackaway serves the University of West Georgia as Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science where he teaches classes in Political Parties, Political Campaign Management, Interest Groups and Lobbying, and Campaign Finance. You can also find Rackaway on Twitter and his website.