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The Alaska Humanities Forum

Movements in education immediately after World War II emphasized research based studies in the natural sciences. Members of the legislature saw education as a means to actively fortify the republic. This national focus in education underscored America’s Cold War need for new discoveries with practical applications. By the sixties, the asymmetry in government support for education was evident to the next generation of the legislature. Federal education agendas were obscuring the humanities. The humanities were consequently orphaned by public perception.

The federal government moved to counter the disparity by promoting both academic research and educational programs in the humanities. The mission is explicitly financial. A macro grant-writing agency called the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) was established by The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities act of 1965 ( The NEH attempts to strengthen the institutional base of the humanities in America by funding scholarship, teaching, lifelong-learning, and public access to cultural and educational resources.

At a micro level, the NEH is composed of separate humanities councils located in all 50 states and 6 U.S. territories. These councils mimic the NEH’s institutional goal to facilitate humanities education. The humanities council for Alaska is the Alaska Humanities Forum (AHF). The AHF is a 501(c) (3) non-profit educational organization located in Anchorage. The AHF is one of the oldest humanities councils and was founded in 1972, less than a year after the first 6 experimental councils were incubated by the NEH. The AHF has also emerged in the last ten years as the most progressive of the state councils in its efforts to expansively interpret the definition of humanities and to enlarge its role in the reinforcement of civic and cultural life.

This case documents difficulties the AHF’s has undergone while attempting to understand its own goals and the subsequent proliferation of its program portfolio into areas that may not be central to the humanities. It follows the organizational story of the AHF since it pursued its first major initiative outside of grant-making operations in 1999.

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