The University of Virginia has announced that it will establish a new Center for Civil War History made possible by John Nau III, who is a UVA alumnus and an outgoing member of the school’s Board of Visitors.
The $13 million will support the center as well as “an endowed professorship, an endowed graduate fellowship, a postdoctoral fellowship, scholarship funds, a book prize and travel funds for research, as well as other means to support faculty and students.” Many of you know that Nau established an endowed chair in UVA’s history department that is currently filled by Gary Gallagher.
Yesterday I posted this story to the Civil War Memory Facebook page with the comment, “This is huge.” The post garnered a great deal of attention, including a few comments that questioned whether we need a Civil War center. Is it a waste of money? Are there not other areas of history that could use such a financial boost? Let me suggest that the significance of this donation has little to do with whether it funds Civil War history or for that matter any other area of American history.
The significance of the donation is that it comes at a time when the Humanities on the secondary and college levels is under assault. On the high school level the current craze is developing STEM programs while Humanities majors are either under-funded or cut entirely because they fall outside a growing tendency to evaluate college programs along a business model.
Such a large donation made to enrich and expand a history program by a private citizen is something that all of us who value history education and the Humanities ought to celebrate.