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The Humanities and Climate Change

A call for stories about impact and solutions.

By Brian Boyles.

Massachusetts is a coastal state with islands, beaches, and a storied fishing industry. The farms of western and central Massachusetts are bountiful economic drivers. Our great institutions of higher education and, increasingly, our state government are invested in developing green technologies and cutting-edge strategies to address the impacts of climate change around the globe. In the coming years, the nation will depend on the ideas generated in Massachusetts, just as it has during advances in biotechnology and education. 

Yet any effort to fight climate change depends on people. From dried out lawns to scorching sidewalks, the daily consequences of a warming planet continue to redefine our lives. The flooded fields of the Connecticut River Valley and the inundated streets of East Boston call on us to renew our responsibility to our neighbors and our businesses. Because climate change impacts all of us, every resident deserves access to information and avenues to participate in building solutions. 

The humanities belong at the center of climate change policies and decisions. Together, we must imagine, evaluate, and choose the most ethical pathways for our hometowns and our state. The stories and wisdom generated through public engagement with the humanities offer essential data as we calculate risks and develop mitigation strategies. We need more opportunities to talk about what may be lost, what must be saved, and how our lives will change. 

The humanities enable us to connect our own lived experiences with the experiences of our ancestors and our communities. These connections will be invaluable as we adapt to the changing landscapes of Massachusetts.  

At Mass Humanities, we believe that storytelling and shared learning give us unique tools to change the world. We believe that policymakers and scientists can learn from the contexts and truths that emerge when local residents explore the past and envision the future. And we believe that the greatest potential for Massachusetts lies in building more inclusive structures to usher in a more equitable commonwealth. 

That’s why our 2024 Expand Massachusetts Stories (EMS) grant-making initiative includes a funding opportunity for projects about climate change.   

Climate change can feel immense and complex. The humanities connect the local to the global. We can read about annual summits and ways to build new barrier islands, but the effects on everyday life often go unchronicled or give rise to hopelessness. We need new narratives that integrate perspectives from communities too often overlooked in the climate conversation. We need to understand the work of Massachusetts residents to revolutionize sustainable practices and reduce emissions. Our colleges and universities can partner with grassroots humanities organizations to better understand societal impacts. Our community historians and tribal leaders, our poets and artists, our recent immigrants and our librarians all belong at the climate table.  

Applications open Feb. 5 and the deadline to apply is May 31. We welcome the stories that reside in our diverse network of humanities spaces, and we hope to meet new partners from other sectors that can help us grow the intersectional field of storytelling that is thriving in Massachusetts today.  

While this climate initiative is new, our focus on grassroots organizations is part of the changes we’ve made to our grantmaking in the last three years. In 2023, 64% of our Expand Mass Stories grantee partners had annual budgets of less than $300,000; 57% of funded organizations were 1st time grantees; and more than 67% of the projects were led by people of color. Support from Mass Cultural Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Barr Foundation sustain these grants and the work of our talented staff to better serve non-profits working with limited resources.  

We acknowledge that we have more work to do, and we welcome your ideas on how and where we can show up and listen.  

I hope you’ll share this opportunity with people and groups in your part of Massachusetts. We believe the humanities belong on the street corner, in the classroom, and at family gatherings. They also belong in the laboratory, inside city hall, and along the shoreline. Each of us can take part in the decisions that shape our future. The solutions and insights that emerge from Massachusetts will benefit every resident as we take on this challenge. Together.  

Brian Boyles 
Executive Director  

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