The Federation of State Humanities Awards Four Schwartz Prizes for Outstanding Humanities Public Programming at the 2020 Virtual National Humanities Conference

Winning council programs were selected in two categories and included California Humanities, Humanities Texas, Vermont Humanities, and Humanities Washington

November 17, 2020 [Arlington, VA] – During a virtual evening ceremony on Thursday, November 12, 2020 at the Virtual National Humanities Conference, the Federation of State Humanities Councils presented the 2020 Schwartz Prize for outstanding work in the public humanities to four humanities councils across two different categories: 2019 humanities programming supported or conducted by a humanities council and humanities programs created or adapted as a direct response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the 2019 programming category, two Schwartz Prizes were awarded: one to California Humanities for “Library Innovation Lab” and the other to Vermont Humanities for “Vermont Reads 2019: March: Book One.” In the COVID-19 response category, two Schwartz Prizes were awarded: one to Humanities Texas for “Teacher Professional Development Programs” and the other to Humanities Washington for “Cabin Fever Questions.”

“This year’s winners highlight the depth and breadth the humanities offer today and the ability of the humanities councils to adapt, innovate, connect, and continue to serve their communities through crises,” said Phoebe Stein, president of the Federation of State Humanities Councils. “From reaching often underserved immigrant populations to engaging communities in conversations about anti-racism and supporting our K-12 teachers and community members when COVID-19 hit, these programs reflect the power of the humanities in everyday American life.”

The Schwartz Prize is made possible through an endowment by founding Federation Board Member Martin Schwartz and his wife Helen and has been awarded since 1982.


“Library Innovation Lab” California Humanities

Library Innovation Lab” is an ongoing, capacity-building and professional development program for California’s public libraries created by California Humanities. Each year, the council provides year-long, practice-based opportunities for 10 library specialists along with grant awards of $5,000 to assist with innovating programming to provide “welcoming experiences for immigrants and foster more inclusive communities.” According to its nomination, over the last four years the program has engaged more than 33,000 Californians and over 40 partner libraries. Now, faced with the challenges of COVID-19, the council’s 2020 efforts include “experimenting with various types of virtual and physically distanced public programming.”

Judges praised the “mutually beneficial relationship” between the council and libraries in order to address the needs of a diverse immigrant population. One judge noted that the council “has made major strides in meeting immigrant communities where they are while building capacity for culturally-responsive humanities programming in libraries and communities throughout the state.” Judges agreed that the “value of [this] programming for immigrants is significant” with one judge adding that the program’s “extensive reach goes well beyond the library walls and into the hearts of the communities in which they serve and interact.”

California Humanities has won a total of five Schwartz Prizes; the council won in 2001, 2007, 2009, 2015, and this year.

“Vermont Reads 2019: March: Book One” Vermont Humanities

Vermont Reads 2019: March: Book One” by the late Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell is the result of a “radical” choice of a comic book by Vermont Humanities for their Vermont Reads one book reading program. According to the council’s nomination, the “book was hardly the most radical choice… Rather, choosing this graphic history of the civil rights movement for our statewide reading program cemented a shift in our organizational perspective and turned Vermont Humanities into a statewide leader in conversations about racism and equity.” The project engaged thousands of Vermonters and hundreds of organizations in the 14 counties across the state culminating with an event which Congressman Lewis and his co-author Andrew Aydin attended.

Judges acknowledged that the program has allowed for “big stretches for the state for successful programs on contemporary issues, reaching broad, diverse audiences.” Another judge added that the program “encouraged communities to thoughtfully address systemic racism while inspiring hope.”

This is the first time Vermont Humanities has won a Schwartz Prize.


“Teacher Professional Development Programs” Humanities Texas

Teacher Professional Development Programs” by Humanities Texas provide Texas teachers with the opportunity to “learn from leading scholars, examining topics in US and Texas history, government, and language arts.” These programs have run for more than 15 years and in March and April of 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the council transitioned the previously in-person teacher programs to an online format which included 13 webinars and seven multi-day institutes. The online programs included 60+ scholarly presentations and served nearly 2,000 teachers across the state. According to the council’s nomination, these teachers represented all of Texas’ 36 US congressional districts, worked in 269 of the state’s 1,227 school districts and taught more than 150,000 Texas students each year. The transition of this program to an online and virtual format increased the program’s accessibility to teachers statewide and will now be incorporated into the council’s wider offerings for teacher in an effort to “fulfill a significant part of our core organizational mission: to improve the quality of humanities education in Texas.”

Judges praised the program for its “impressive” reach and scope, including its sustainability. One judge noted that “while working within the confines of the pandemic, Humanities Texas created a series of high-quality, virtual professional development programs for K-12 teachers that actually expanded the council’s reach… In years to come, this model will help Humanities Texas expand its offerings, substantively improving K-12 humanistic education in Texas.”

This is the first time Humanities Texas has won a Schwartz Prize.

“Cabin Fever Questions” Humanities Washington

Cabin Fever Questions” by Humanities Washington was one of the first council programs developed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Washington State was initially hit hardest by the virus, and the council created Cabin Fever Questions to provide an “alternative way for people to have engaging, well-researched, and humanities-centered conversations to help make sense of it all.” According to the council’s nominating statement, the council strove to provide curated, specific, and deep questions supported by resources like primer videos, investigative articles, and conversations with humanities scholars – to “create something that cut through the [overwhelming, rapid-fire news] and provided context, and that encouraged deeper thinking than [what] typically flashed through their social media feed.” The program allowed Washingtonians to “both contextualize and understand the times we are living in, to deeply connect to the people around them, and to enjoy a reprieve from the daily psychological onslaught of COVID-19.” The council also created “Cabin Fever Kids,” a further evolution of “Cabin Fever Questions” that highlighted children’s books for caregivers, developed age appropriate and inclusive discussion questions and directed families to free copies at libraries. By crafting this “slow and intentional activity,” the council noted that “families had the chance to connect and thrive, rather than merely get through the day.”

Judges praised this program’s ability to “chart the course for all state councils as [they] sought meaningful ways to address the pandemic and serve constituents.” Judges commented that they “loved how simple and clear this concept was, while deeply reflective and engaging. The presentations or prompts on social media and email gave residents opportunities to respond at their own time and at their own pace.”

This is the second time Humanities Washington has won a Schwartz Prize; the council won its first Schwartz Prize in 1995 for “The First 100 Years; Reflections of Seattle’s Chinese Americans.”


Founded in 1977, the Federation of State Humanities Councils is the national member association of the US state and jurisdictional humanities councils. The Federation’s purpose is to provide leadership, advocacy, and information to help members advance programs that engage millions of citizens across diverse populations in community and civic life.


The state humanities councils are independent nonprofit organizations supporting and creating grassroots humanities programs and community-based activities. Humanities councils were established by Congress in the early 1970s and receive an annual congressional appropriation through the National Endowment for the Humanities, which most councils supplement with state and private funding.

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