Partner Spotlight: National Humanities Center with Andy Mink

The National Humanities Center campus in Research Triangle Park in Durham, North Carolina.

Andy Mink, Vice President of Education Programs at the National Humanities Center (NHC), discusses the importance of the humanities in our daily lives, the Center's national level education work, the work of Duke TeachHouse fellows in the NHC's Triangle University Internship Program, and the Humanities in Class Digital Library--a fantastic Open Education Resource (OER) for humanities teachers.  

About the National Humanities Center

The National Humanities Center (NHC), was founded in the mid-1970s by Gregory Vlastos, Morton Bloomfield, and M.H. Abrams in order to establish the country’s first ever center devoted to humanities research. After several years of planning and discussions about where the NHC should be located, a small group of North Carolinians including Governor Luther Hodges and Achibald “Archie” Davis, head of Wachovia Bank, helped to secure a portion of Research Triangle Park for the future center and forged a collaboration between local educational institutions including North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina system, and Duke University. 

Today the National Humanities Center is the world’s only non-profit fully independent research center in the humanities. Since its beginning, the Center has hosted over 1,400 fellows in residence who have produced over 1,600 books along with numerous other scholarly works. In addition to its fellowship program, the Center also supports K-12 education on a national level through its extensive education programs including webinars, free online materials, and other offerings that are vetted or conducted by former Fellows or leading humanities scholars. The Center’s wide-ranging advocacy efforts over aim to promote “the significance of the humanities as the foundation of a democratic culture, a fulfilling life, and an informed citizenry.”

Andy Mink, Vice President of Education Programs at the National Humanities Center

Duke TeachHouse has partnered with the National Humanities center since 2016 through its  participation in the Triangle University Internship Program, an initiative that brings together local graduate students and practicing teachers to develop diverse materials and lessons that explore cross-curricular connections in the humanities. Given that ten of TeachHouse’s seventeen total fellows have taught a humanities-related course at the high school level, the partnership is a great fit. 

In their classrooms, teachers are constantly asked by students, “Why are we doing this? Why is this important?” We, too, thought this would be a good place to start as we sat down with Andy Mink, Vice President of Education Programs at the National Humanities Center.  When asked why the humanities are still relevant today, Andy shared:

The humanities are the “why.” Why things happen. Why we connect with others. What our identity is and how we relate to other members of our community. What our responsibilities are. It’s the notion of understanding the super complicated world when every day it becomes more complicated. But the humanities may be our ticket out, they may help us see how to turn the dark to light and how to repair some of the damage that’s clearly being inflicted.

Keep reading below to learn more about the Center's national level education work, the work of Duke TeachHouse fellows in the NHC's Triangle University Internship Program, and the Humanities in Class Digital Library--a newly created free Open Education Resource (OER) for humanities teachers.

How does the National Humanities Center engage with and support education at the local and national levels?

Duke TeachHouse fellows Scott Ellis, Mary Margaret Mills, Benton Wise, Emily Stout, and Savannah Windham participated in the 2017 National Humanities Center Triangle Internship Program.

The education department and my predecessor Richard Schramm, who was Vice President of Education for 36 years, did extremely important, foundational work in terms of infusing scholarship in instructional materials. What the National Humanities Center provides is direct access to that scholarship and to emerging understandings of different fields, disciplines, and curricula. For a long time, our education department aimed to create exemplary lessons or activities to do that. I remember hearing Richard describe it as the lessons we created served “that space between college and high school.” 

Over the last 5 years under the leadership of our current president Robert Newman, our senior staff has worked to transform the Center--a center that was an insulated, idyllic research center--and make it much more public-facing and connected to the world around us. Our Education Department has evolved to mirror a laboratory, a place where scholars and educators can work together as colleagues to create innovative new approaches to teaching the humanities. Scholars offer knowledge and clarity. For example, working with an historian who has devoted themselves to understanding race relations is critically important when you’re trying to figure out how to teach race relations. But teachers are professionals and experts also. Teachers bring a set of experiences that understand how to take that knowledge and figure out the many ways to share it with students of all ages. The Center works primarily with the K-12 educators - about 70% of our audience - but we also work with the collegiate level--community colleges, graduate students, and university faculty.  Our goal is to create access to content, to assemble experts, and to create a makerspace to produce innovation. We believe that an essential component of best practice instruction is to infuse accurate, current scholarship.  The more an educator knows, the better prepared he or she is to create rigorous learning experiences in the classroom.

Here’s a direct example: last year we received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to launch a project called Troops to Teachers. We recruited public school teachers from Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina who are also military veterans. The idea was that the same kind of intrinsic motivation that may send someone to military service would also lead them to the classroom once they complete their duty. We accepted fifteen teachers from 3 of the 4 branches--Army, Navy, and Marines--  The cohort included officers and the enlisted, combat veterans and non-combat veterans who did not serve in actual conflict, men and women.

Duke TeachHouse fellow Emily Stout (front left) collaborates with humanities PhD students from around the Triangle. 

The cohort came to the Center for a five day training in June 2019 to learn on how to use literature to help non-military civilians understand the military experience.  Literary scholars, writers, and poets shared their perspectives on war literature to explore complicated concepts like conflicted duty, honor, and homecoming.  The literature became a lens to a shared experience, a “training wheel” for us to develop empathy and understanding for another’s life experiences. Once trained, these teachers returned to their schools and created similar projects to help their communities, their faculties, and their schools to better understand the military family experience.  In this case, the humanities served as an active set of skills and resources that helped us collectively and individually make better sense of the world we live in and the relationships we form. 

In what ways have Duke TeachHouse fellows partnered with the National Humanities Center over the years? 

Our work with graduate students and teachers has evolved. The Center began to work with PhD students in the humanities in 2016 when we welcomed our first cohort of six students from Duke and UNC. Each year the program grew, in part because of the recognition of the importance of providing pedagogical training to graduate students who will all teach in some form during their career.  In 2017, the program (then called the Triangle University Internship Program) grew to 12 students, including our first TeachHouse representatives, and in 2018 we expanded to 24 students with the addition of Virginia Tech and UNC - Greensboro. The TeachHouse students were amazing additions to the program because they played the liminal role of being grad students as well as professional educators.  Other students might have worked as Teaching Assistants or some other supporting role, but the TeachHouse crew were walking the talk every single day in a public school classroom in the Triangle.  They offered practical, experienced viewpoints, and their expertise was based on experience. 

In 2019 we decided to create a much broader program.  Re-named the NHC Graduate Student Summer Program, this 10-day institute brought students from universities across the country to the Center to collaborate and learn from university faculty, professional educators, and to create connections across university and discipline. 

These sixty students represented numerous fields and had diverse aspirations.  Based on a pre-Institute survey, approximately half of them had career aspirations to obtain a Research I tenure-track position. Others planned to teach at a small liberal arts college, or a community college, or even to teach high school. We wanted to affirm the value of teaching to their career, regardless of the level or the location of their classroom and courses.  We wanted to offer direction connection to university professionals who have established and successful careers because of their teaching, not in spite of their dedication to their students.  This environment also gave students a safe, authentic environment to discuss their career plans, their anxieties and concerns, and to address issues of gender, race, and culture in the classroom.

This year, we have 78 students from 28 universities who will be  attending a five-day Virtual Graduate Student Summer Residency in July.   Our focus will be online teaching and learning, and we will model ways to create interactive digital learning activities, to build community in a digital environment, and to encourage collaboration.

I’m very proud that this program grew from a local, small program into an annual institute that is both addressing the needs of universities as well as providing grad students with the skills and connections to prepare them for a successful career.   Our hope, of course, is that many of these young scholars become Fellows at the Center in the future.

The years that TeachHouse fellows worked with us, I thought it was really important in this laboratory model to include high school teachers to bring that pedagogical experience to the table. I can remember even participants like Scott Ellis [a TeachHouse founding fellow and mentor, left] who was an elementary school teacher just did wonderful work sitting side by side with some guy in a philosophy PhD program. There really is a way in that laboratory model, as long as people are being asked to be experts in what they’re experts in, that people across diverse disciplines can come together to create inspiring and innovative curricula. 

What resources does your organization provide for educators? How can students, teachers, and education professionals become involved with the NHC and support its work? 

Like many content providers, the Center provided access to high quality resources by putting them online.  We tracked site visitors and usage statistics, and promoted the value of these resources by the digital metrics we could collect.  However, the disadvantage of this approach is that access doesn’t show us impact.  I’m confident in saying that 100% of teachers modify and adjust materials they find online to fit their particular classroom and, in fact, they probably change from year to year, class to class, even student to student.  Until now, we have not been able to witness the impact of our work - our live webinars, our online courses, our digital lessons, even our face-to-face workshops - on teacher efficacy, confidence in their knowledge, application to their classroom, and, at least implied, to student learning.

As a response to this, we created and launched Humanities in Class Digital Library in June 2020. This Open Education Resource (OER) platform provides free and open access to all of the NHC resources as well as thousands of resources contributed by partner organizations across the humanities landscape. Educators and scholars at all levels can get a “library card”, which grants access to the full functionality of the OER space. 

The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. This shift in educational practice is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; its about participation and co-creation. Open Educational Resources (OER) offer opportunities for systemic change in teaching and learning content through engaging educators in new participatory processes and effective technologies for engaging with learning.

Members can interact on the site as a “card catalogue”, which allows them to search for a topic and curate resources that are saved to a private folder. . Each resource is tagged with metadata that allows it to be fully discoverable, resulting in collections and sets of resources that explore interdisciplinary connections. 

The National Humanities Center Humanities in Class Digital Library is an Open Education Resource (OER) platform. To visit this resource, click here. 

This is not intended to be Google, and we’re adding resources every day. We’ve got a list of partners who are also adding materials, so they span the humanities. Partners such as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Duke Consortium for Latin American Studies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, along with dozens of other organizations, represent the highest quality resources for K-12 and collegiate audiences. 

In addition to collecting materials, members can also evaluate the resources, can apply key terms and standards as appropriate, and can remix and modify them to meet the individual needs of their teaching.  Members can also publish their own instructional materials, thereby growing the value and the relevance of the OER site and strengthening the connection between the Center and the classroom.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the TeachHouse and Duke Education community? 

My sense of TeachHouse - and I think is why I immediately knew that our organizations would be close working partners - is at the heart of our work is an acknowledgement of the value of professional educators. In addition to myself,  NHC Education staff includes Mike Williams and Libby Taylor, and one thing the three of us have in common is we were all in the classroom. Between us, I think we have 27 years of K-12 teaching experience. My primary focus for our work, the most important thing that we’re trying to do is inspire and support teacher leadership. Just as the Center supports an annual Fellowship class to conduct world-class research and writing in the advancement of the humanities, we want to inspire teachers to reach their absolute best career place. That’s the key: it’s not building curriculum, it’s not doing digital scholarship, it’s supporting really powerful professional teachers to be leaders in what they’re doing. And that’s what TeachHouse does, too. 

Check out the video below to hear past fellow Savannah Windham discuss her experience in the National Humanities Center Triangle Internship Program and how Duke TeachHouse supports and encourages leadership in early career teachers.