What U.S. Politicians Say About the Humanities — A Data Set and Analysis

As part of its “WhatEvery1Says” project to study how the humanities are represented in public discourse, 4Humanities examined United States political discourse during 2009 to 2015 in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government and also the legislative branch of one state, California. (Update: data and analysis of Texas and Florida now added.) Our goal was to learn systematically how politicians talk about the humanities.


The humanities figure in U.S. political discourse mainly in a drama of “recognition.”

—Austin Yack


Researcher and analyst Austin Yack — a student at University of California, Santa Barbara majoring in political science and minoring in English who has intern experience reporting on politics in Washington, D.C. — canvassed records available through the following government sources: Whitehouse.gov, Congress.gov, Gpo.gov (Government Publishing Office), and Legistature.ca.gov. Tools he used to facilitate finding and collecting  documents and legislation mentioning the humanities or liberal arts included the Sunlight Foundation’s APIs.

The data sets collected from these sources are presented here in the form of spreadsheets that include metadata and annotated summaries for all political records referring to the humanities between 2009 and 2015. Accompanying the data set is a white paper by Yack (“What U.S. Politicians Say About the Humanities”: HTML | PDF) containing an analysis of his findings.

Future research related to political discourse on the humanities may widen the scope of study by extending the data sets back in time from 2009 to 2000 (thus allowing for comparison of Republican and Democratic presidential administrations) and across more states (thus complementing the case of California with that of representative states from other regions of the nation). In addition, 4Humanities may conduct text analysis and topic modeling of the full text of documents included in Yack’s data set (similar to the data analytics it is performing for the WhatEvery1Says project on newspaper and magazine articles mentioning the humanities).


Data Sets

Live, full Google spreadsheet of the data set
Live, full Google spreadsheet of the data set

For the live, full Google spreadsheet (containing three separate sheets), see the following:

For filtered, static views showing facets of the data sets selected in connection with Yack’s arguments in his white paper, see the following (presented for convenience as simple Web pages in table format generated from the live spreadsheet using the Google Visualization API):


Austin Yack, White PaperAnalysis (White Paper by Austin Yack)

Austin Yack. “What U.S. Politicians Say About the Humanities: White Paper on the Humanities in Political Discourse, 2009-2015.” 4Humanities.org, 1 March 2016 (HTML | PDF)

Update: white paper on “The Humanities in the Eyes of Texas and Florida Politicians” now added.