Published September 6, 2016

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) announced today that Robert C. Vaughan III, one of the leading advocates for the humanities in America today, will step down as VFH president in 2017, after forty-three years of organizational leadership. Vaughan’s term as president will end on June 30. Following a sabbatical, he will officially retire at the end of the year.

“Rob Vaughan is one of the most highly respected and gifted state humanities council leaders in the country,” said William D. Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). “Under his guidance, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities has become a model for what public humanities practices can and should look like.”

“My work at VFH and the University of Virginia has shaped my life. It’s given me the opportunity to explore the humanities to a greater extent than I ever thought possible, and to serve the extraordinary people of the Commonwealth,” said Vaughan. “When I reflect on my experience, I am most proud of the VFH staff itself. It’s been a blessing to collaborate with such innovative, enthusiastic, and entrepreneurial people over the course of four decades.”

Under Vaughan’s leadership and since its founding in 1974, VFH has become the largest of all fifty-six state humanities councils, with the most diverse programs and funding sources in the nation. It has produced more than 40,000 humanities programs including festivals, public radio programs, conferences, and digital resources, and contributed to more than 3,500 grant projects and 350 fellowships.

A trailblazer in the field of public humanities, VFH is the only state council to produce its own radio programs and the only humanities organization in the world to partner directly with Google to produce Street View virtual tours of historic sites. Vaughan’s leadership has prioritized not only this spirit of innovation, but also a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the telling of Virginia’s stories. Early in the organization’s history, Vaughan and the VFH Board established a focus on the history and cultural contributions of women and African Americans in Virginia; that focus has continued and broadened to include Virginia Indians and the increasingly diverse immigrant populations of the state.

“The University and the Commonwealth have been fortunate to have Rob leading the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities,” said Thomas C. Katsouleas, Executive Vice President and Provost of the University of Virginia. “His contributions to scholarship and the public good cannot be overstated. It’s been an honor to work with him over the course of my first full year at UVA.”

Some milestones from Vaughan’s tenure at VFH include:

  • The 1974 convening of planning meetings across the state to foster public understanding of the humanities and to relate the humanities to current issues;
  • The first allocation of state funding for any humanities council in 1980, when the Virginia General Assembly helped VFH launch a media lending library;
  • The 1984 exhibition, catalogue, and book for “A Share of Honour”: Virginia Women 1600-1945, which laid out a research agenda for women’s studies in Virginia;
  • The 1986 Schwartz Prize recognition of the Virginia Women’s Cultural History Project by the Federation of State Humanities Councils, which has awarded VFH six Schwartz Prizes for outstanding work in the public humanities, more than any other state council;
  • The 1987 VFH grant that supported the first meeting of all state-recognized Indian tribes in Virginia since the 1600s;
  • The 1988 publication of the book The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: Its Evolution and Consequences in American History, which has never been out of print, and corresponding conference and additional publications;
  • The 1989 launch of the Virginia Folklife Program—the first and only of its kind to be housed at a state humanities council;
  • The 1991 publication of the first of three editions of The Bill of Rights, the Courts, and the Law, a major contribution to civic discourse in America;
  • The 1995 launch of the Virginia Festival of the Book, the largest community-based book event in the mid-Atlantic, which has attracted audiences of more than 20,000 for each of the last thirteen years;
  • The 2003 Re-Imagining Ireland international conference and festival hosted by VFH, the largest gathering of Irish leaders, artists, and social activists outside of Ireland at that time;
  • The development of VFH’s award-winning public radio programs and podcasts, beginning in 1998 with With Good Reason, and expanding to include BackStory with the American History Guys in 2008;
  • The 2005-2008 development and launch of Encyclopedia Virginia, the authoritative and innovative online resource exploring Virginia’s history and culture; and
  • The 2013 launch of VFH Content Academies, an entrepreneurial approach to enhancing teachers’ understanding of issues faced by minority populations, pioneered in collaboration with Arlington County Public Schools.

To learn more about VFH’s history under Vaughan’s leadership, visit: http://virginiahumanities.org/40-years-40-stories/

For Vaughan’s full bio, visit: http://virginiahumanities.org/vaughan-bio/

About VFH: The mission of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities is to connect people and ideas to explore the human experience and inspire cultural engagement. VFH reaches an estimated annual audience of 23 million through Community Programs, Digital Initiatives, Scholarship, and the Virginia Center for the Book. For more information, visit http://virginiahumanities.org/.

Our work brings people together and honors our shared humanity.