When Joanna Tobin approached NHA in February 2017 about partnering on a national week of reading—a project that has since become One Book, Many Conversations (OBMC)—we quickly welcomed the opportunity. Tobin’s efforts to build on the organic and overwhelming interest that had emerged in 1984 fit well with our goals as an advocacy organization committed to making the case for the value of the humanities. As we embark on the second year of OBMC—this time centered on Frankenstein—we continue to see it as a prime opportunity to advance three essential advocacy goals.
First, we are committed to broadening the public’s access to the humanities: the more members of the public participate in high-quality humanities programming, the better they understand the value of the humanities in their lives and communities. OBMC organizes in-person and virtual reading discussions, led by trained facilitators, providing individuals in all phases of life and in all parts of the country the opportunity for deep engagement with literature. These engagements also help shift narratives about the humanities in higher education, which are too often focused narrowly on career outcomes for individual students. OBMC, alongside other publicly engaged humanities initiatives, make clear the humanities in higher ed provide opportunities for lifelong learning and community engagement beyond the campus.
Second, the reading of both 1984 and Frankenstein helps make the case for the essential role the humanities play in helping us grapple with issues of public concern. Last year’s discussions surrounding 1984 enabled timely conversations about citizenship, freedom of the press and speech, and truth in public discourse. As Tobin notes, this year’s exploration of Frankenstein will allow for conversations on the opportunities and perils surrounding technological innovation and obligations to future generations that are just as timely. Frankenstein’s themes have already proved highly resonant at this juncture, as evidenced by the success of several programs put on this year by Indiana Humanities and by the Keats-Shelley Association as part of Frankenreads over the past year.
Finally, and most straightforwardly, OBMC discussions are an opportunity to engage more humanities advocates. When federal funding for the humanities is in jeopardy, as it has been each year since President Trump took office, we need as many advocates as possible to take action. We are always looking to build our email list of advocates—people who understand the value of the humanities and are ready to write to their elected officials when their voice is needed. OBMC facilitators help us recruit these advocates, making sure that the participants in their discussions groups—participants who have just dedicated their time to a deep engagement with the humanities—know that humanities advocacy is an option and that signing up for our advocacy list is an easy step to take to learn more and become involved.
We hope you will take part in an OBMC discussion this October. Learn more here. We also hope that when you do, you will take the next step and signup to be an advocate for the humanities and encourage others to do so as well.