What were you doing in 1975…1985…1995?
Since California Humanities first opened its doors in 1975, we have sought to encourage people to:
- learn more about the complex history of our state and all its peoples
- to gain a greater understanding of our individual and collective experiences
- to think about the values, dreams, and aspirations we share so that we can work to create the California we want to see in the future.
This has been and remains at the forefront of our vision of what the humanities should be and can do – connect us all through the human experience.
When we celebrated our 40th anniversary in 2015, we decided it was a good time to take stock of what California Humanities and our partners have accomplished over the past four decades. Organized chronologically by 10-year intervals pegged to milestone events in the wider world, this timeline is supplemented by short stories and illustrative materials related to key programs, projects, and people who have made outstanding contributions to our mission. As you will see, our history reflects our deep commitment to the core values of the humanities while striving for innovation, relevance, and responsiveness to an ever-changing world.
Over time, we will be adding more material and new information to this site. If you are a past grantee, project partner, or program participant, consider sharing your experiences with us here – we’d love to hear from you. We hope you will enjoy this brief excursion through our past and that you’ll join us as we write the next chapter of California Humanities’ story.
President & CEO
Credits: This timeline was developed by California Humanities staff with support from University of California Public Fellows, Sarah Papazoglakis (UC Santa Cruz, Literature), Cherish Asha Bolton (UC Irvine, History), and Megan Cole (UC Irvine, English). We appreciate the contributions made by other staff members, former and current, and the generosity of all those who shared their stories and impressions with us.
The California Council for the Humanities and Public Policy, one of 56 independent state humanities councils launched by National Endowment for the Humanities, officially began its work in fall 1974 when a group of academic and public leaders convened in San Francisco to confront the challenging task of determining how the disciplines of the humanities might address the difficult practical problems of public life.
In the current decade, the vision for California Humanities has grown to see new leadership, new grants programs, and a strategic focus on education, public engagement, and field-building.
New leadership brought renewed energy and enthusiasm, and fresh approaches to the organization’s work. A new name – California Humanities — signaled the commitment to serve the entire state, matched by expanded communications and outreach efforts. A new suite of grantmaking programs, Humanities for All, was developed to encourage projects in underserved communities, both rural and urban. A unique program, Library Innovation Lab, was designed to support libraries in welcoming immigrants to their communities. Recognizing the importance of engaging the next generation, the organization embarked on a new initiative, Youth Perspective and the Future of California, including new grantmaking and direct programming to reach youth and support emerging journalism fellows at community colleges.
Growing concerns about threats to our democratic system of government and the legacies of racial violence and injustice spurred reflection. They led to programs that encourage reflection, discussion, and dialogue among people of diverse backgrounds and opinions and an organizational focus on equity. Finally, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the organization focused significant resources and energy on supporting the public humanities field, providing immediate relief resources and longer-term recovery and capacity building. These efforts have been rewarded by increased public and private support, including, for the first time, funding allocations in the California State budget.