Press Release


CHICAGO – The Illinois Humanities Council (IHC) and the Federation of State Humanities Councils enthusiastically endorse the President’s decision to nominate James Leach, a former 15-term Congressman from Iowa, as the next chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  

"Mr. Leach’s distinguished career, both in government and most recently in the academy, makes his appointment especially apt at this critical time," said Alton B. Harris, Chairman of the Illinois Humanities Council, an independent state affiliate of the NEH. "By co-founding the Congressional Humanities Caucus in 2004, he significantly increased awareness of the importance of the humanities in public life and with public officials."

"We will continue to do everything we can to support our fellow Midwesterner in making the humanities vital to the lives of individuals, communities, and the nation," said Kristina A. Valaitis, Executive Director of the IHC.  "IHC programs invite audiences to understand the importance of the humanities in finding meaning in our own lives and in the history of our own and other cultures, as well as in providing the context for understanding contemporary issues."

Calling the nomination an "important and timely" selection, Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, stated, "Mr. Leach’s long and distinguished career in public service and his evident commitment to the improvement of civic life make him an ideal person to lead the NEH at this critical time. He clearly recognizes the key role of the humanities in helping citizens in communities across the nation understand not only our history but our current circumstances." 

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), Chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for NEH, said that Leach will "… work with the state agencies and make sure we have a broad distribution of the humanities throughout the country."


During a distinguished career, James Leach has been a Congressman from America’s heartland, a congressional leader in banking and international affairs, and a professor at a prestigious university, but in choosing him to head the National Endowment for the Humanities, President Obama recognized that Leach was something else as well:  a champion of the activities and endeavors that make human life meaningful.  In a congressional environment that was often contentious and partisan, Mr. Leach gained an unshakable reputation for integrity, even-handedness, and an independent and thoughtful approach to issues. 

Mr. Leach served as Chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services (1995-2001), a senior member of the House Committee on International Relations, and Chairman of the Committee’s Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs (2001-2006).  Since 2007, he has taught at Princeton University and served as the interim director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In 2004 Leach co-founded, along with Rep. David Price (D-NC), the bipartisan Congressional Humanities Caucus. He received the 2005 Sidney R. Yates Award for Distinguished Public Service to the Humanities from the National Humanities Alliance in recognition of his work as a champion for the humanities. 


An important component of the agency Leach will be heading are the 56 state humanities councils, established to extend the reach of the NEH to communities in every state, the five territories and commonwealths, and the District of Columbia.  The state humanities councils offer programs that support families and teachers, provide resources for community institutions, and bring citizens together to collectively address issues of importance.

Since its founding in 1973 as the Illinois state affiliate of the NEH, the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC) has been dedicated to fostering a culture in which the humanities are a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities. The IHC creates programs and funds organizations that promote greater understanding of, appreciation for, and involvement in the humanities by all Illinoisans, regardless of their economic resources, cultural background, or geographic location. The IHC is supported by state, federal, and private funds.

For more information about the Illinois Humanities Council, visit or call 312.422.5580.

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