Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences


Answering a bipartisan call from U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Representatives Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin) and David Price (D-North Carolina), the Academy created a national Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2011. The goal of the Commission was to claim a space in the national dialogue for the humanities and the social sciences and to recommend specific steps that government, schools and universities, cultural institutions, businesses, and philanthropies can take to support and strengthen these areas of knowledge.

The Commission considered and responded to the following question:

What are the top actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national excellence in Humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy in the twenty-first century?

Drawing on past Academy research efforts, data from its Humanities Indicators, and the experience and expertise of a multidisciplinary group of national leaders, the Commission prepared a report and recommended concrete, actionable steps to ensure the nation’s excellence in the humanities and the social sciences.

The report lays out three main goals and thirteen recommendations for advancing the humanities and social sciences in America, focusing on creating an engaged and literate public; funding research and support for educators; and promoting language learning, area studies, and study-abroad programs to strengthen U.S. leadership in an increasingly interconnected world.



Commission Chairs
Commission Members

Danielle Allen

Harvard University
Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and James Bryant Conant University Professor
Academy Member

David B. Brooks

New York Times Company
Op-Ed Columnist, Political Analyst
Academy Member

Tom Campbell

Chapman University School of Law; former U.S. Representative from California

James Cuno

The J. Paul Getty Trust
President and CEO
Academy Member

Gerald Lyn Early

Washington University in St. Louis
Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters
Academy Member

Karl W. Eikenberry

U.S. Department of State
Ambassador and Lieutenant General (retired)
Academy Member

Drew Gilpin Faust

Harvard University
Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor; President Emerita
Academy Member

Richard B. Freeman

Harvard University
Herbert S. Ascherman Professor of Economics
Academy Member

Anthony Grafton

Princeton University
Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Humanities
Academy Member

Amy Gutmann

University of Pennsylvania
President, University of Pennsylvania
Academy Member

John L. Hennessy

Stanford University
President Emeritus and Shriram Family Director of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program
Academy Member

Jill A. Hornor

Sound Postings, LLC

Steven Knapp

Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh
President & CEO
Academy Member

George W. Lucas

Skywalker Properties, Ltd.
Film Director, Producer, Screenwriter
Academy Member

John Sexton

New York University
President, Emeritus; and Benjamin Butler Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law
Academy Member

Donna Edna Shalala

University of Miami
Trustee Professor of Political Science and Health Policy; Former President
Academy Member

David J. Skorton

Association of American Medical Colleges
President & CEO
Academy Member

David Souter

Supreme Court of the United States
Associate Justice
Academy Member

Eric J. Sundquist

Johns Hopkins University
Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities
Academy Member

Billie Tsien

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, LLP
Academy Member

Charles M. Vest

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
President; President Emeritus of MIT
Academy Member

Diane P. Wood

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit
Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
Academy Member

Pauline Ruth Yu

American Council of Learned Societies
Academy Member

John Tessitore

American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Senior Program Advisor


News & Updates

News & Updates



Project Outcomes

Project Outcomes

The Commission's report, The Heart of the Matter, became an integral part of an ongoing national dialogue about the state of the humanities and social sciences in the United States. 

  • The report was featured in nearly 300 newspapers, podcasts, and television programs, including The New York TimesPsychology TodayThe Guardian, National Public Radio, PBS, and The Colbert Report. 
  • A companion film – produced by the Ewers Brothers and featuring Ken Burns, Yo-Yo Ma, John Lithgow, and other members of the Commission – was screened at faculty meetings and university outreach events, and at board meetings of state humanities councils and nonprofit foundations.
  • Institutions of higher education adopted parts of The Heart of the Matter for dozens of purposes – for local fundraising, curricular reform, and even community-building. Several colleges made the report required reading for incoming students, and two universities – the University of South Carolina and Carnegie Mellon University – showed the companion film to incoming freshmen.
  • The Commission’s activities included nearly fifty events in twenty-three states as well as in England, Switzerland, and Sri Lanka. Through these gatherings, scholars, leaders of academic and nonprofit institutions, and other members of the public exchanged ideas for the practical implementation of the Commission’s goals in local communities. Many of these activities are described in the Commission's follow up report, The Heart of the Matter Around the Country.

Learn more about the Commission's outreach and influence:

Events & Discussions

Media Coverage