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Bruce Cole is one of two presenters at this year's John Adams Lecture in the Humanities. Bruce Cole is one of two presenters at this year's John Adams Lecture in the Humanities.

Will the Humanities Thrive in a Digital Age?

The John Adams Lecture features two national heavyweights in a rare discussion of the future of digital humanities.
By SDSU News Team

Bruce Cole, senior fellow at the Ethics and Policy Center in Washington, D.C., will appear opposite Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf at the 22nd annual John Adams Lecture in the Humanities on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m.

Cole is a former two-term chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and a 2008 recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal, which recognizes U.S. citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for the nation. It is one of the highest honors the president can confer upon a civilian.

Students, faculty, staff and community members may register for the Adam’s Lecture, which will take place in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union’s Montezuma Hall. It is sponsored and organized by the Department of Classics and Humanities.

Humanities in a digital age

In a preview of the discussion, SDSU asked Cole to answer questions about his achievements at the NEH and the future of the humanities in a digital age. A Q&A with Cerf was published in SDSU NewsCenter last month.

Q. You were director of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2001 to 2009. During that time, the NEH introduced “We, the People” and “Picturing America.” How did they come about?

A.  "We the People" began as a program to improve general knowledge of American history. America is a country of ideas and ideals united not by a common ethnicity or religion, but by our founding documents and shared history. Yet studies have shown that our young people are graduating with serious deficiencies in historical knowledge. During my tenure at the NEH, we received $90 million—the largest program support ever—to promote knowledge of American history. One of the initiatives was “We, the People.” This included the program “Picturing America,” which provided 80,000 elementary schools, middle schools and public libraries across the country with high quality reproductions of art and a website that tells the story of America through images and words. Teachers can access the website for resources to help them teach American history in their classrooms.

Q. How did the NEH became involved in the digital humanities?

A.  While I was director, I began to see the possibilities in digital humanities. So many resources were becoming available for the first time digitally—images, original texts, musical scores—and people were beginning to put them together to create new knowledge. It’s not generational. Many older people are as excited as younger people about this new digital frontier. We also began a joint project with the Library of Congress to digitize every page of every American newspaper published. Now people are able to mine these publications in a way that was never before possible, to view them page by page with all their stories, advertising, letters to the editor and other content. These are original sources—the news before it became history. Supporting the digital humanities has become an important component of the NEH’s work.
Q. You will be talking with Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cert at SDSU’s Adams Humanities Lecture on Jan. 26. Have you worked with him before?

A. Vint Cerf is a towering figure in the digital world and one of the brightest, most creative people I know.  The NEH sought his advice because he appreciates not only the technical aspect of digital humanities, but also the cultural implications. He understands the connection between the power of the web and the diffusion of the humanities to serve research and education.