Mission and History

Established in 1988, the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes serves as an arena for the discussion of issues germane to crossdisciplinary activity in the humanities and as a network for the circulation of information and best practices related to the organizational and management dimensions of humanities centers and institutes. CHCI currently has a membership of more than 220 organizations in the US, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Pacific Rim. CHCI produces a major Annual Meeting of its membership, maintains a content-rich website, produces an annual print directory, and serves as a re-circulator for information about its members via listservs and its website. Members of the Consortium also assist one another with ideas, evaluation, and other forms of service. The organization is headed by a President, and is governed by an International Advisory Board of member directors and other leaders in the humanities.

CHCI was established in 1988 as the product of two meetings: The Institutional Impact of Institutes at the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI, now based at the University of California, Irvine), convened by Murray Krieger, and an organizational meeting at the 1988 meeting of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), convened by E. Ann Kaplan of the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University. These gatherings were the first moments at which directors of humanities research organizations had come together to discuss issues of mutual concern, and the major product of the meetings was a unanimous sense that it was essential to establish a consortium to continue these dialogues. Ralph Cohen of the University of Virginia served from 1988-1995 as the organization’s first Chair, while CHCI administration was based at UCHRI. In its early years, the CHCI membership included over 70 members from the US and four other countries.

In 1995 CHCI operations and leadership moved to the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, at that time directed by Kathleen Woodward, currently Director of the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington. During CHCI’s term at UW-Milwaukee, the membership grew to over 125 organizations as new centers were opened and existing members began to expand their programs and operations. This period of time also saw the dramatic expansion of CHCI’s Annual Meetings, the development of the organization’s first website, and two major grants from the Rockefeller Foundation for organizational development and network-building.

In 2001 CHCI moved to the auspices of the Humanities Center at Harvard, where Director Marjorie Garber served a six-year term as President of CHCI. During Professor Garber’s term, membership continued to grow, and CHCI’s annual meetings grew markedly in terms of depth, scale and impact.

In 2007, CHCI operations moved to the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, under the leadership of Srinivas Aravamudan. Since moving to Duke, CHCI has begun developing programs for the membership, such as a partnership with the American Council of Learned Societies, and other initiatives now in progress, including further internationalization.

The CHCI membership continues to grow and to become truly international in scope. 2016 brings the latest transition of CHCI leadership to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Current CHCI President Sara Guyer, Director of the Center for Humanities, concentrates on imagining a humanities that draws upon the rigors of critical theory, while encouraging both established and emerging scholars to help shape public life. This emphasis on the public humanities is backgrounded in the urgent need to advance research and thinking that reaches across institutional lines both within and beyond the university, envisioning new audiences for research in literature, history, philosophy, and culture. 

Looking to the future, it is one of the major goals of CHCI to become an increasingly international organization, and our international membership has grown 25% since 2007 alone. To that end, the International Advisory Board has begun discussions with humanities leaders in various parts of the world to identify affinities and shared concerns, and to explore opportunities for collaboration.

CHCI is an affiliate member of the American Council of Learned Societies.