Coffee with Roy, "Roy and the National Endowment for the Humanities"
by Barbara Ashbrook, National Endowment for the Humanities
Transcription of remarks made at the OAH session, “Morning Coffee with Roy Rosenzweig: A Remembrance,” on March 29 by Barbara Ashbrook, National Endowment for the Humanities.
Good morning. I was invited to talk about Roy and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I suppose most of you know what we do? (laughter) We give grants, and we give grants with your money, and so we use great care when we give those grants. Within this framework, Roy enjoyed legendary success as a seeker of grant funds, and I think what is even more important, his projects were always the kind that grant makers could point to with great pride. I consulted before I came here the old NEH database-- printed something out. I see that Roy first appears on the list (laughter) for a fellowship he won in 1982 to write a social history of Frederick Law Olmsted’s public parks. Then, in 1986, his knack for collaboration kicks in, I guess, and it gets a boost with a collaborative research grant for a project on the Central Park. Now, I’m not going to march you through the rest of this list of Roy’s way to seven figures and beyond, shall we say, (laughter) from the NEH. And of course this list that I have doesn’t count the numerous grants where Roy was a key partner but not a director, often working in collaboration with his friends at the American Social History Project and their wonderful New Media Classroom workshops and seminars which have reached hundreds of teachers and changed lives. However, that next project, the third one that shows up on my database list, means a lot to me because this was his first grant from the Education division – the first of a good many grants. And from this, I figure it must have been late 1994 or early in 1995 when two guys showed up in my office. Now, that would be Steve Brier and Roy Rosenzweig. And at the time I thought, “Oh boy, here comes trouble, (laughter) just the kind of trouble I love to have!” because what makes working at the Endowment so exciting is, of course, your scholarship, your energy, the experiences that you have as teachers that you share, and your sense of developments in the field. That’s what makes it wonderful. Well, these two guys were telling me something pretty interesting about what they were doing with technology, and it sounded like a good thing because some of what had been done before wasn’t really so great, but . . . I didn’t know it at the time, but Roy and Steve were opening the door to a whole new way of working in the humanities. We funded that CD-ROM – that Who Built America, question mark – and later, History Matters, and projects on the French Revolution, and projects in world history, all of these projects in which Roy’s leadership was so crucial to their success. I will also mention the Challenge Grant which Roy put together which would give the beginning of a permanent endowment for the Center for History and New Media, and I believe this is part of his lasting legacy, too. When Roy began his career as a professional historian, I doubt that he imagined he would end up making history himself, and that he would be one of those builders of America -- the best parts of America – but, in fact, that is just what he did. And so, on behalf of the National Endowment for the Humanities, I want to say “thanks, Roy” for giving us the opportunity and the privilege of playing a supporting role in your life’s work (applause).