As we celebrate our 50 years of championing the humanities throughout the state, we’ll be spotlighting some of the people who’ve joined us along the way and contributed to our work with their donations, time, energy, skills and creativity.
This month, we spoke with Randall M. Miller, who has been involved with PA Humanities in many ways over the years. He served on the board of directors from 2003 to 2007, was chair from 2005 to 2006, and was also a speaker in the popular Commonwealth Speaker Series. The Glen Mills resident and professor emeritus of history at Saint Joseph’s University has authored and/or edited a number of books on topics including religion, popular culture, regional cultures, slavery, and the American Civil War, and is the former editor of Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography and a former president of the Pennsylvania Historical Association. He also is a co-editor of the digital Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.
Q: Can you share the impact that PA Humanities has had on you?
A: I’ve been involved with PA Humanities probably 30 years or more, and because I believe in the concept of what role the humanities plays in our lives and in particular why PA Humanities exists and what it does, its importance to me has been quite profound. The Speaker Series in particular brought me into the wider world of extending humanities beyond the classroom. Academics, in some cases, live isolated lives. Being able to get out among the many and diverse people in the commonwealth is important not just in terms of conveying ideas but also listening to, learning from, and engaging with the people. PA Humanities has always believed its principal responsibility is to carry the humanities to the people, and that understanding the value of the humanities and participating in the humanities is not just about receiving knowledge but building knowledge in peoples’ own communities. That’s a signature element that makes PA Humanities distinct.
Q: As we celebrate PA Humanities’ 50th anniversary, what message would you like to share with those who’ve been part of the journey so far and/or those who will be joining the movement in the years to come?
A: As a people in the U.S., in the Commonwealth, in our own communities, too many of us have come to distrust our institutions. In many ways, we have even come to distrust and lost confidence in ourselves. The humanities are at a critical crossroads. They might be able to save us from ourselves if we’re willing to open up to the idea that there’s so much to learn about who we were, who we are, and from that who we might be. The humanities are instrumental in that. They provide the means in terms of the kinds of knowledge, but the nature of the humanities is one that’s conversational and ongoing. It’s about exchanges. It’s based on intention, and that’s what we need. PA Humanities is positioned beautifully in the state at this critical moment to do that. It has the philosophy of the humanities for a purpose, and that is to build capacity and capability and cooperation and collaboration, and to build up both this attitude and willingness and to provide the tools and the will to do it.
Q: How do you see the role of PA Humanities and its importance to the future of Pennsylvania?
It’s vitally important. And PA Humanities is not just a player, it’s a leader. It has the history, the people, and the resources in order to do that, and it has the will. And will is important. There’s risk involved, and you can’t be shy.