Humanities Indicators
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About NIHO

What is a humanities organization?

NIHO uses the conceptualization of the humanities developed by the Humanities Indicators, which is based on the definition of the field included in the founding legislation of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

NIHO encompasses not-for-profit, for-profit, and government institutions engaged in humanities scholarship and/or in bringing humanities knowledge or skills to various audiences. Key organization types include:

  • Humanities departments and centers at institutions of higher learning;
  • Art and history museums;
  • Other public history organizations, such as historical societies;
  • Libraries and archives;
  • Cultural and ethnic awareness organizations;
  • Literacy organizations;
  • Writing, book, and literature organizations; and
  • Humanities disciplinary and professional societies.

NIHO seeks to identify not discrete projects or activities of a limited duration, but instead the organizations—organized bodies of people and other resources with a somewhat broader purpose and an enduring presence—that are engaged in humanities activities themselves or that support the humanistic endeavors of other organizations or individuals. Thus the teen book discussion group organized by the staff at the local public library, for example, will not be included in NIHO, but the library itself will be, as will the “friends of” organization that may exist to raise funds for and supply volunteers to that library. A National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)–funded research project will not be included, but the humanities center receiving that grant will, as will the philanthropic organization that funds that center and other humanities-focused endeavors. The line between project and organization is subject to interpretation, of course, but NIHO seeks to identify and describe institutions rather than particular initiatives undertaken by such institutions.


In the course of developing its material on the number and resources of humanities not-for-profits, the Humanities Indicators realized that 1) humanities not-for-profits reporting to the IRS did not represent the full universe of relevant humanities organizations (as not-for-profit organizations embedded within higher education units were generally excluded, not to mention for-profit and government organizations), 2) several organizations had developed lists relevant to their own segments of the humanities community (such as museums and historical organizations), employing widely varying conceptions of what should and should not count as a humanities organization, and 3) for analytical purposes, there are important internal differences within particular organization types (such as the distinction between art and history museums) that can only be captured with a finer-grained classification scheme (see "Introducing COHO", below).

NIHO is designed to facilitate collaboration, both as far as program development and casemaking, among humanities practitioners. For policy-makers and the public, NIHO communicates the number of organizations, as well their geographic dispersion and staggering variety. NIHO will help dispel for these stakeholders the widespread misimpression that the humanities are an elitist enterprise and “done” only at universities. For NEH and other funders, it provides a means of soliciting proposals from smaller, lesser-known groups doing strong work. The Academy also hopes NIHO will stimulate research of this sector by allowing investigators to draw samples of organizations for closer study.

Introducing COHO

A key objective of NIHO was to develop a flexible, comprehensive taxonomy that would allow us to make important distinctions among types of humanities organizations. Extensive consultation with representatives of key constituencies (please see below for their names and full acknowledgement of their contribution) resulted in the Classification of Humanities Organizations (COHO). Though initially intended as a pure taxonomy, in the sense that the categories are mutually exclusive, the hybrid nature of many of the organizations we encountered led us to use COHO as more of a portfolio of “tags”, up to three of which could be applied to any given organization. For an explanation of the organization categories and links to exemplars, click here.

How did we find these organizations?

NIHO looked to a variety of sources, including:

We are grateful to these organizations for their painstaking data collection efforts and their willingness to share the fruits of those labors with NIHO. We encourage to NIHO users to follow the links above to learn more about these organizations and their important work, which extends well beyond information gathering.

Whom do we have to thank?

NIHO is made possible by generous financial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The project benefited substantially from the insight and energy of:

  • Jeff Allen, Federation of State Humanities Councils;
  • Brett Bobley, Office of Digital Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities;
  • John Dichtl, American Association for State & Local History;
  • Jim Kitterman, Maryland Humanities Council;
  • Elizabeth Lynn, Center for Civic Reflection;
  • Kathy Rosa, American Library Association; and
  • Carol Rosenstein, George Mason University.

They could not have been more generous with their time and expertise.

Also providing invaluable guidance were the members of the Humanities Indicators Advisory Committee:

  • Norman Bradburn, NORC at the University of Chicago;
  • Jack Buckley, American Institutes for Research;
  • Jonathan Cole, Columbia University;
  • Ronald Ehrenberg, Cornell University;
  • Michael Hout, New York University;
  • Felice Levine, American Educational Research Association;
  • Esther Mackintosh, Federation of State Humanities Councils;
  • Judith Tanur, Stony Brook University; and
  • Steve Wheatley, American Council of Learned Societies.

Finally, NIHO would like to thank Terri Bitsie, educator and expert on Native American cultural institutions, for her assistance in identifying over 300 organizations dedicated to the preservation and study of native language and other cultural forms, and the sharing of these with the non-native public.