Testimony of Mary
Margaret Overbey, Ph.D.
Director of Government Relations
on Behalf of the
American Anthropological Association
Submitted to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies
US House of Representatives
Fiscal Year 2005
in Support of the
National Endowment for the Humanities
April 2, 2004
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) appreciates the opportunity to submit testimony to support an appropriation of $162 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in FY 2005. We appreciate President Bush's recognition of the importance of NEH in proposing to increase funding by 19.7% in FY 2005. We support the President's FY 2005 budget recommendation of $162 million for NEH, and we urge you to fund NEH at this level.
We thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Subcommittee for the increased funding you have provided to NEH in recent years. We ask you to strengthen that support now and in the future.
NEH remains the Nation's single largest source of funding for humanities programs. Since it's founding in 1965, NEH has enjoyed bipartisan support for carrying out its unique role in fostering Americans' knowledge and appreciation of the humanities through a range of activities undertaken at the national and local levels. These efforts include, among others, support for research and scholarship, public education efforts, classroom teaching, preservation efforts, media programming, and museum exhibitions. In addition, NEH supports state humanities councils in 50 states to provide education and outreach to communities to ensure that the humanities reach all Americans.
The President's request of $162 million includes $33 million for the We the People initiative. We support We the People initiative as a broadly implemented initiative to enhance Americans knowledge of American history. This includes developing an understanding of American history from its early inhabitance by Native Americans and early explorations and settlements by Europeans through current global relations and influences that affect American history. We the People will inspire a wide range of projects that will advance Americans knowledge of our Nation's history as a whole.
We believe that NEH plays an important and unique role in enhancing our understanding of our Nation's culture and cultures around the world. Who we are, where we came from, what unites us as a Nation, and what unites us as a worldwide community? These are but a few of the questions that projects funded by NEH help us to answer.
NEH supports scholarly research by anthropologists, archaeologists that have led to new discoveries and re-shaped interpretations of human history. For instance, much of the historic archaeological research in the US and abroad is supported by NEH. Particularly significant are the studies focused on the origins of civilizations in the Near East and the Americas. Every day, new interpretations of how civilizations arose or declined result at least in part from NEH funding.
Importantly, the translation of these findings often makes its way to the American public through other NEH-funded projects. NEH supports programs to educate the public through museum exhibitions, television programs and films. In addition, NEH supports teacher training to ensure that K-12 teachers and college professors remain current and fresh and impart new knowledge to students in the classroom.
We provide three examples of these projects supported by NEH to illustrate the significant contributions that result from a federal investment in NEH.
1. NEH funding enabled archaeologist Richard Zettler (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) to conduct archaeological excavations at one of the ancient cities in Mesopotamia, Tell es-Sweyhat in northern Syria.
Zettler received funding to explore the topography and structure of Tell es-Sweyhat in order to understand the origins and rise of urbanism in early northern Mesopotamia. Dating from the 3rd millennium, Tell es-Sweyhat promises to reveal much about the story of how cities developed and functioned in Mesopotamia. Tell es-Sweyhat appears to have been a substantial settlement and offers important opportunities for understanding the dynamics of subsistence living in marginal environments and the role of pastoralism in the emergence of early state societies.
Zettler's research builds upon his earlier excavations at the site. These excavations include a fully intact group tomb, circa 2500-2250 BC, in an extensive cemetery that may contain as many as 150 such tombs. Both the tomb, believed to be a family burial, and the cemetery surrounding it, have yielded important new information about the ancient people who once lived and flourished in this now arid land. Along with the tomb, Zettler and colleagues have found more than 100 unbroken pottery vessels, a variety of copper or bronze objects including weapons such as daggers, axes and a javelin with a string notch, and a model cart with wheels.
In addition to archaeological research, NEH provides funding to museums to translate the findings of research to the public through museum exhibitions. Zettler's research in Mesopotamia serves as such an example. Zettler's NEH-funded scholarship in Near East archaeology enabled him to develop, along with that of his co-curators Dr. Holly Pittman and Dr. Donald P. Hansen, a traveling exhibition "Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur" at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The exhibition includes more than 200 ancient Sumerian artifacts from the site of Ur in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). The artifacts were largely from excavations in the 1920s and 1930s that had been divided between the University of Pennsylvania, the British Museum in London and the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. Zettler framed the importance of the exhibit in today's world, "We wanted Penn Museum's visitors to be able to see and consider this important material while interest in Iraq's endangered cultural heritage, and in fact the endangered cultural heritage of so many peoples today, is so much in the headlines." Since 1998, the exhibition has traveled to 11 museums and attracted thousands of visitors.
2. NEH has provided funding for a new PBS documentary "Do You Speak American?" to explore American linguistic diversity.
"Do You Speak American?" examines the history and continuing development of American English among the more than 82 percent of Americans who speak English at home. A team of linguists was assembled by the Capital of Texas Public Telecommunications Council to develop the three-part PBS documentary, accompanying DVD and website that will address questions of power, education and access to resources, and our assumptions about language.
John Baugh of Stanford University and William Labov of the University of Pennsylvania, among others, analyze the way we use language in America and the changes that English has undergone over time. Examining such diverse sources as clips of Presidential speeches, interviews with newspaper editors, and instant messaging slang, the project illustrates changes in speech based on situation and interpretations of those changes. In addition, the project examines the changing sound of English. For example, the Great Lakes region used to be considered the area where the most normal or standard accent of English was found. That has now expanded to encompass the Midland area that includes Ohio, Michigan, and Northern Indiana to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
A surprising finding of the project is that American speech is not becoming more homogenous, as had been predicted in the past. Rather than making language or speaking styles more similar, movies, television and music have served to develop new forms of language and speech. In addition, regional origin, ethnicity, social and economic class and level of education play an important role in the way we speak.
The project includes an educational outreach program that will bring the study of language to middle and high school students. The website will enable users to access continually updated information. The PBS documentary will premier this fall, and the DVD and website will at the same time.
3. NEH funding enabled archaeologist William Kelso (Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities) to locate the site of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States.
Founded in 1607, Jamestown was long believed by scholars to be lost in the James River. Kelso's work demonstrated conclusively that this valuable early American settlement remained intact on shore. Through the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, Kelso and his colleagues have been excavating the site to reconstruct this important phase of American history. Their findings have been reshaping our knowledge of our Nation's founding and how the early settlers lived. In addition to the more than 400,000 17th century artifacts that have been found, Kelso and colleagues have determined the outline of James Fort, unearthed burials of early Jamestown residents, and uncovered Jamestown's last Statehouse.
In 2003, excavations uncovered what is suspected to be the grave of one of Jamestown's most important founders, Captain Bartholomew Gosnold. The burial site was within the fort, and on the casket is a ceremonial staff that Kelso thinks is a flagpole. Gosnold died a few months after arriving in Jamestown, and historic records indicate that he was buried with considerable ceremony. Descendents of Grosnold have been identified, and DNA testing will be done to confirm the identity of the remains.
The discoveries at Jamestown have served as the basis for public education campaign that includes tours of Jamestown and Virtual Jamestown, an interactive website that provides an overview of the finds, maps of John Smith's voyages, and reference materials. The discoveries at Jamestown have been profiled in two PBS programs, "Unearthing Secret America: What Happened at Jamestown?" and "Secrets of the Dead II". The film "What Happened at Jamestown" explores the fact and fiction surrounding Jamestown and presents what life was like for the early colonists. The film "Secrets of the Dead II" examines the findings revealed by the human remains at Jamestown from the perspective of a forensic anthropologist.
The Jamestown Rediscovery project represents an exemplary success story. NEH provided the necessary seed funding to get the research going and state and private funding followed. Since the discovery of Jamestown, the Jamestown Rediscovery project has received funding from the Commonwealth of Virginia, corporate sources such as Wachovia and Anheuser Busch, and individuals. Kelso's work continues at Jamestown in preparation for celebrating the 400th anniversary of the settlement in 2007.
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, these are but three examples of the outstanding scholarship and public benefits that result from a federal investment in the NEH. We urge you to increase the funding for NEH to $162 million in FY 2005 and to support the rebuilding of NEH as the Nation's premier granting agency for the humanities. To do so will benefit the advancement of scholarship, the American people, and the Nation.
By way of background, the AAA is the world's largest professional association of anthropologists. Founded in 1902, the purposes of the AAA are to advance anthropology as the discipline that studies humankind in all its aspects, to further the professional interests of anthropologists, and to disseminate anthropological knowledge to address human problems. The AAA represents more than 11,000 archaeologists, social and cultural anthropologists, physical and biological anthropologists, and linguistic anthropologists.
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