Peer-Reviewed Research

At PA Humanities, we are committed to participating in scholarly discourse about the role of the humanities in society through peer-reviewed research and sharing our findings in regional and national forums. This dedication to rigorous study is critical for demonstrating the humanities’ power in fostering understanding, building community, and driving change.

Below you’ll find some of our recent publications.

Humanities in Action: Centering the Human in Public Humanities Work
– Laurie Zierer, PA Humanities executive director
– Veronica Watson, PhD, Chair and Professor, Department of English, Old Dominion University

While the humanities remain as necessary as ever, the shrinking academic job market has led scholars to rethink the nature and purpose of graduate school in these fields. Highlighting examples of innovative approaches, Graduate Education for a Thriving Humanities Ecosystem aims to provide resources and inspiration for a sustainable, thriving, and even joyful future for the humanities.

Humanities in Action: Centering the Human in Public Humanities Work is part of a collection of works in this volume offering a visionary framework for doctoral education and postdoctoral careers rooted in concepts of abundance, collaboration, community engagement, and personal well-being. The essay emphasizes the role of the humanities outside the academy for the public good in helping people analyze texts, imagine others’ perspectives, make ethical decisions, and sit with ambiguity. It proposes graduate programs that respond to student and community needs and lead to a variety of career paths. Finally, it envision opportunities for meaningful, fulfilling work in the service of a larger purpose.

In their conversation-style essay, Zierer and Watson model and imagine a mutually beneficial relationship and dialogue between two significant contributors to the humanities ecosystem: graduate programs in the humanities and state humanities councils. Watson and Zierer share their experiences and relationship with the public humanities from their vantage points as a program director of graduate education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and, together, as staff, scholar, and board member at PA Humanities, where they have redefined their work and practice in different ways to put the humanities in action for positive change with – not for – communities.


Zierer, Laurie, and Veronica Watson. “Humanities in Action: Centering the Human in Public Humanities Work.” In Graduate Education for a Thriving Humanities Ecosystem, edited by Stacy M. Hartman and Yevgenya Strakovsky, 195-212. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2023. ISBN 9781603296403 (Hardback) or 9781603296410 (Paperback).

Learning as We Go: How Emergent Process Supports Sustainable Community and Philanthropic Change
– Laurie Zierer, PA Humanities executive director
– Elizabeth Myrick, Elizabeth Myrick + Associates Consulting
– Rachel Mosher-Williams, Principal at RMW Consulting Group, LLC

Beginning in 2014, PA Humanities drew upon the work of Orton Family Foundation to deploy the Community Heart & Soul method, which centers community planning and civic engagement around connecting people to each other, and to the many assets of the places they live, through individual storytelling and collective narrative building.

Between 2015 and 2018, PA Humanities awarded matching grants to three locations in Pennsylvania — Greater Carlisle, Meadville, and Williamsport — to pilot PA Heart & Soul, a humanities-based, resident-driven community planning process that cultivates a shared sense of belonging among residents, engages them in thinking critically and creatively about community life, and involves them in decision-making and development to strengthen the social, cultural, and economic vibrancy of place.

The PA Heart & Soul Learning Project, launched to seek greater clarity about the direct experience of participants, was structured as an appreciative inquiry into the model’s implementation and guided by a Learning Advisory Group of funding and implementation partners and community residents.

The Learning Project concluded that an emergence-focused and humanities-driven approach can produce sustainable community plans informed by resident voices, particularly those who have been historically marginalized. Perhaps more important, allowing emergent learning to shape PA Heart & Soul strategy led to stronger engagement by residents, improved funder–community relationships, and new ways of showing up for PA Humanities and its partners.

This article presents researchers’ findings about the impact of the model; describes how PA Humanities, a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment of the Humanities, is reformulating its civic engagement strategy based on these findings; and explores potential lessons for place-based grantmakers seeking inclusive, people-centered community change.

Myrick, Elizabeth, Rachel Mosher-Williams, and Laurie Zierer. “Learning as We Go: How Emergent Process Supports Sustainable Community and Philanthropic Change.” The Foundation Review 14, no. 3 (2022).

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