Humanities Means
— Josh Berk, executive director
Bethlehem Area Public Library

Humanities in action

Apr 06, 2015

Through a new partnership with the Orton Family Foundation, PHC is bringing an innovative and inspired approach to community engagement to towns and neighborhoods across Pennsylvania. This approach, aptly named Community Heart & Soul™, connects people with what they love most about their communities and translates those personal feelings into a blueprint for future decisions. A resident-driven approach to community planning and development, Heart & Soul focuses on building participation in local decision-making and empowering people to shape the future of their own communities. Through workshops in eastern, central, and western Pennsylvania, Orton community engagement experts will introduce local community leaders to the Heart & Soul method. In follow-up, PHC will invite proposals from workshop participants, awarding $25k grants to qualified groups interested in implementing Heart & Soul in their communities. “ Community Heart & Soul is a wonderful way to broaden involvement to people whose views too often go unheard and to build plans that truly reflect the character of each community,” explains PHC executive director Laurie Zierer. “This is an example of how we can put the tools of the humanities to powerful use, and we are delighted to partner with the Orton Family Foundation in promoting it.” David Leckey, executive director of the Orton Family Foundation,  also anticipates a fruitful partnership with PHC. “We look forward to introducing Community Heart & Soul to small cities and towns in the Keystone state, and can’t imagine a stronger partner than Pennsylvania Humanities Council for helping towns to engage in community development rooted in what matters most to the residents who live there,” says Leckey.  In addition, Heart & Soul aligns strongly with PHC’s strategic direction, explains Zierer. “We are committed to focusing our support on select initiatives with the potential to have a significant positive impact on the lives of Pennsylvanians. Promoting proven best practices like those of Heart & Soul is ideal.” Community Heart & Soul workshops, offered at no cost, will be held in Colmar (Montgomery County), Harrisburg, and Latrobe (Westmoreland County), on May 11, 13, and 15, respectively. Those who will benefit from participating include teams from community organizations, economic development groups, revitalization and preservation groups, and other civically and culturally focused nonprofits. Questions? Contact PHC at or call 215-925-1005. To learn more about Community Heart & Soul, visit the Orton Family Foundation website .

Apr 12, 2015

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council was proud to present the dynamic opening speaker for the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival: Azar Nafisi, Iranian-American bestselling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran. Following a special introduction by Dr. William “Bro” Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Nafisi treated a rapt audience to a discussion on the topic "Humanities & the Future of Democracies.” Drawing on her experiences both in Iran and in the United States, Nafisi explored themes including the power of great works of art as a force against tyranny and the lasting relevance of the humanities. “The humanities are essential to us in a very pragmatic sense,” she explained. “They remind us of our shared human struggle, and allow us to deeply appreciate the voices and the hearts of others who are different from us, who exist in times and places we can only imagine. Democracy depends on that imagination.” The March 26 event drew an audience diverse in age and background—a group clearly engaged by Nafisi’s warmth and enthusiasm. An extended session of questions and answers followed the talk. “It would be hard to imagine a more fitting speaker for this event celebrating the humanities,” said PHC staff member Candace Clarke. “Azar Nafisi’s message is our message—that the humanities have a profound, real-world impact and can transform people’s lives.” Ten years ago, Nafisi electrified readers with her memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, a multi-million-copy bestseller that made a passionate case for the vital role of imagination—and great English and American novels in particular—in preserving the soul and combating the noxious ideology of a totalitarian society. In her new book, The Republic of Imagination, she turns her attention back to the democratic society that gave birth to these great novels and makes a passionate a case for the vital role of fiction in society today. Among key ideas in her Pittsburgh address, Nafisi emphasized the connection between individual imagination and shared liberty. “I believe that no freedom—political, economic or social—can be realized without the freedom of imagination and thought,” she said. “It is this basic and most human form of freedom that both promises and safeguards all those other freedoms.”    

Apr 16, 2015

PHC has been recognized for helping to meet an important need—providing high-quality afterschool programs for Pennsylvania’s kids. On March 3, the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool/Youth Development Network (PSAYDN) honored PHC as an Afterschool Champion for its outstand­ing work in developing meaningful afterschool/out-of-school time programs. The award recognized the impact of PHC’s Teen Reading Lounge, an interactive book discussion series for kids ages 12-18. Both substantive and fun, Teen Reading Lounge engages teens in book-related discussions and hands-on creative activities, helping them build literacy, critical thinking skills, and a sense of community. Held in more than 39 libraries throughout Pennsylvania, the program is expanding to 17 more locations this spring. “We are thrilled that PSAYDN sees the future in the same way we do,” said Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. “At PHC, we strongly believe that including teen audiences in the public humanities is the first step in building a community of well-informed, highly-engaged adults.” “As an Afterschool Champion, PHC leads through example,” said PSAYDN director Kacy Conley. The champions’ outstanding commitment and hard work were recognized by the peers, leaders and community members who nominated. We are thrilled to shine the light on these inspiring accomplishments.” Afterschool programs pick up where the school day leaves off. They offer kids a safe, supervised place to go before and after school, on weekends and during summers and provide a variety of activities such as art, music, dance, sports, science, service learning, and career exploration. According to the landmark America After 3PM study conducted for the Afterschool Alliance, more than half a million Pennsylvania children currently need, but don’t have, afterschool programs.

  • jackson park
Jackson Park, Team Reading Lounge

Our Belief & Vision 

At the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, we believe that the humanities are a uniting and empowering force. They bring people together and provide the knowledge and strength they need to have an impact on their neighborhoods, cities, and towns.

The humanities develop essential thinking and social skills through the exploration of history, the arts, culture, literature, and music and through meaningful conversation. They help us make sense of the world we live in. Through the humanities, we learn to understand one another, to see new possibilities in our future, and to work, play, and live in more fulfilling ways.


Pennsylvania Humanities Council

What We Do

Promoting Essential Education—We help people develop abilities key to leading successful lives in the 21st century—from critical thinking, to creativity and collaboration.

Sparking Civic Engagement—We empower people to join together and make their communities stronger, using the tools of the humanities.

Championing the Public Humanities—We demonstrate and celebrate the value of the humanities and advocate for their support.