It's the largest federal grant that Washington College has received in its 225-year history—and that includes the 50 guineas that George Washington gave to help found the school in 1782.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has announced that it has awarded a $625,000 "We the People" Challenge Grant to Washington College—one of only five recipients of the grant from nearly 30 applicants nationwide. "We the People" is an NEH initiative designed to "strengthen the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture."
The unprecedented and prestigious federal gift to Washington College will support the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience's historian-in-residence program (co-sponsored by the Rose O'Neill Literary House), endow scholarships for outstanding students who plan to major or minor in History or American Studies, and strengthen Clifton M. Miller Library's electronic resources in American history and related fields.
"This is a very exciting moment for Miller Library," said Library Director Ruth Shoge. "The grant allows us to offer the most comprehensive collection of American historical documents in an electronic environment where time and physical space or objects no longer hinder access to researchers."
The historic liberal arts college—the 10th oldest institution of higher learning in America and the first one founded after the victory at Yorktown—is in good company: the other four recipients of "We the People" Challenge Grants this year are Harvard University, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Kenyon College and the National Society of Colonial Dames of America/Stenton.
"This is a high honor," said Dr. Bruce Cole, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. "NEH challenge grants are awarded only after a demanding peer review process. Washington College's proposal was reviewed by scholars and administrators with experience in leading programs and centers devoted to the study of American democracy. These reviewers expressed special praise for the quality of the application, finding it clearly and engagingly written. They deemed the plans for the fellowships to study the legacy of the founding era to capture perfectly the intent of the 'We the People' Challenge Grant initiative."
One of the NEH peer reviewers predicted: "The C.V. Starr Center is going to become a major player in the study and interpretation of the American democratic experience."
The grant requires a 3-to-1 match over the next four years, so that Washington College's eventual gain should total $2.5 million. More than half the matching funds already has been raised, thanks to a recent $1.05 million gift from the Barksdale-Dabney-Patrick Henry Family Foundation, which is being used to turn a 1730s house in Chestertown's historic district into a residence for nationally eminent historians, who will spend an entire academic year working on books and teaching at the College.
"The Endowment is very pleased to join in strengthening humanities activities at the C.V. Starr Center and Washington College," said NEH Chairman Cole. "We are delighted to be a funding partner for this exciting endeavor, and I hope others will join us in supporting this enrichment of the humanities in America."
Established in 2000 with a grant from the New York-based Starr Foundation, the C.V. Starr Center draws on the special historical strengths of Washington College and colonial Chestertown to explore the early republic, the rise of democracy, and the manifold ways in which the founding era continues to shape American culture, through innovative educational programs, scholarship, and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history. In cooperation with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington's Mount Vernon, the Center administers the George Washington Book Prize, a $50,000 annual prize recognizing outstanding published works that contribute to a greater understanding of the life and career of George Washington and/or the Founding era.
"This generous gift will benefit Washington College students and faculty in a multitude of ways, as well as supporting important work on American history that will reach the wider public," said Adam Goodheart, the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center. "And beyond the monetary aspect of the award, it means a great deal to know that the National Endowment for the Humanities has invested itself in the future of the Starr Center and Washington College."
For Washington College, the grant announcement is very aptly timed, as the school is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year.
"This is a wonderful, and somehow very fitting, birthday present for us," said Washington College President Baird Tipson. "As it was for us in the beginning, so it is again for us now, the grateful recipient of largesse ... from Washington. Somewhere up there you're smiling down on us, General—many thanks again."
September 21, 2007