Support of the humanities was the topic of a recent roundtable with U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson held at The French Art Colony last week. Hosted by the Ohio Humanities Council, the meeting included representatives from their organization, as well as Southeast Ohio History Center, National Humanities Alliance and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Tim Robison, director of Congressional Affairs for the National Endowment for the Humanities, discussed the NEH, its programs, how grant dollars are awarded and the assistance it provides. While funding is issued based on the quality of the applicant and not necessarily the need, Robison said the NEH staff work with potential grantees to help them be successful. One of the requests Robison made of Congressman Johnson was to assist them in identifying opportunities in the district to provide workshops to assist those interested in applying for NEH funding.

“We don’t learn very much from history and we don’t retain it. So, I applaud what you are saying because I absolutely agree we need to look at current issues in the context of history,” said Johnson to Snyder.

Stephen Kidd, executive director of the National Humanities Alliance, spoke about his organization and the advocacy it provides for the public value of the humanities. He commented on the importance of roundtables that foster conversations between organizations because they “see in the end, the best way to increase support of the humanities is to increase public engagement with the humanities.”

Pat Williamson, executive director for the Ohio Humanities Council, spoke briefly about her organization and its role in bringing federal funds back to the state and dispersing it for cultural programs. Over the years, Williamson said the Ohio Humanities Council has evolved from just a grant-making organization to also providing programming, such as Ohio Chautauqua.

Speaking about their partnerships with the Ohio Humanities Council and the impact it had on their respective counties were Monroe County Commissioner Mick Shumacher and Bossard Memorial Library Executive Director Debbie Saunders.

Shumacher spoke about the assistance his county received from the Ohio Humanities Council with their Quilt Barn Trail and Saunders discussed the success of Ohio Chautauqua in Gallia County, which returns again to the Gallipolis City Park in June.

For Ohio Humanities Council board member and Ohio University Associate English Professor, Carey Snyder, Ph.D., the importance of the humanities is the history it tells.

“It’s promoting civic discourse and really discussions about hard issues of today and putting that in a historical context,” said Snyder.

Her statement sparked a discussion by Congressman Johnson about current events and how Americans, as a general rule, do not learn from history very well, because each generation “gets to write the next chapter.”

“We’re not a monarchy, we’re not a dictatorship, we’re not the kind of government and culture that exists in Europe. We are self-determining, so every generation has to reinvent who we are,” said Johnson. “That’s both a privilege and a huge responsibility.”

One of the reasons Congressman Johnson cited was individual freedom and liberty being a foundation of American culture and that culture being instilled in citizens from birth, which spurs every generation to strive to “do it better than mom and dad did it”, and to do things differently.

“We don’t learn very much from history and we don’t retain it. So, I applaud what you are saying because I absolutely agree we need to look at current issues in the context of history,” said Johnson to Snyder.

Johnson went on to discuss his belief that America is approaching a “hundred-year redefinition point” as it has since the American Revolutionary War, though he did state later in the meeting, that point is being reached sooner due to the speed in which we receive information. He touched on the lessons the American Civil War should teach, specifically the importance of being able to “come to the table” and work out differences, as well as discussed changes that need to be made in the legislative process to bring it up to speed with the pace of the digital age.

Overall, Johnson said the country is dealing with the same issues today – providing national security, funding the federal government, helping the most vulnerable citizens –  George Washington dealt with when he was sworn in as the first President of the United States.

“I try to calm the waters a little bit and the anxiety when people think that things are so out of control. They’re not,” said Johnson. “It’s the same issues. It’s always been difficult to govern our country, because of the way we’re formed. Because of the system we have. It’s always going to be difficult. There’s always going to be that group that will try and exploit any situation for either ideological, political or personal gain. And somehow we always manage to make the right decisions at the end of the day and come back to the central truth that we are Americans first and freedom and liberty are the real treasures of what we have worked so hard for, and in some cases bled and died for over 240 plus years.”

While Johnson voiced his support of the humanities, he did not shy away from telling those in attendance the day is coming when cuts will need to be made and it was important for the organizations to market how they benefit communities in the district.

“We are heading for a fiscal cliff of bankruptcy in this country that’s got to be addressed. It has got to be addressed. We can not want to talk about it. We can deny that it’s going to happen and think that we’re the greatest nation on the planet, so it won’t happen to us. But it can and it will if we don’t do something to reverse it now. We’ve got to start those conversations,” said Johnson. “So, what I’m telling you is, I’m going to be one of your biggest champions, but I’m not going to win every battle. There are going to be some austere times coming when the budgets are going to have to be addressed and we’re going to have to stop spending money that we don’t have.”

Overall, those in attendance asked Johnson to keep their organizations in mind when his constituents reached out looking for avenues of assistance.