This morning, after a long campaign season, we woke up to uncertainty.

While we await the outcome, we at ACLS want to underline our commitment to the scholarly community – from managing our fellowship programs, which support hundreds of scholars around the world, to convening conversations about the future of humanistic study. As our Director of Communication Heather Mangrum commented this morning, we go for the fast updates and the hot takes, but in the distractions of the moment, it’s clear that deeper understanding of human values, history, communication, and behavior is more important than ever.

Understanding is only one part of our work as teachers and scholars. We are also essential in helping people to engage in well-reasoned dialogue across difference and to foster the imaginative capacity for understanding the conditions and perspectives of others that underpins democratic sensibility.

Whatever the results of this election, those of us who specialize in politics, history, and culture will continue to dive deep into discussions of what our democracy can and should be. I encourage all of us, regardless of field, to challenge ourselves to think about how we, as practiced surveyors and interpreters of humanity, can foster democratic habits of contentious conversation among ourselves, our students, and in the public square. I urge scholars to devote energy to learning how to talk with and listen to those many Americans who have grown deeply skeptical of the value of higher education in general and humanistic research in particular. It is our job to tackle these attitudes, now more than ever, and I hope we find creative ways to do and reward this crucial work — as faculty, graduate students, administrators, scholars employed beyond the university, leaders of learned societies, supporters of study.

Inspiration is all around us. Let’s look to the examples of the dozens who have applied for the second round of our Leading Edge fellowship program, emerging scholars taking the lead in addressing problems beyond the moment of this election: the ethical considerations of COVID-19 vaccine research; housing, health care, and welfare policies to help end cycles of poverty; new models of criminal justice reform; and more.

In a time when our democracy is stressed by inequalities — notably in wealth and access to education — we at ACLS will continue to work for what George Washington called in his farewell address in 1796 the “general diffusion of knowledge”: to promote critical thinking and solid research,  and to foster justice and equity in all scholarly activities.

As we turn together to the work ahead, we at ACLS send best wishes.

Joy Connolly
American Council of Learned Societies