Established in 1973 by order of the president, Dr. James Cheek, with support of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Andrew Billingsley, and under the direction of Dr. Stephen E. Henderson, the Institute for Arts and Humanities at Howard University sought to bring together faculty, staff, students, artists, and the community to preserve, study, enhance, develop, disseminate, and celebrate the artistic and creative aspects of black heritage. In Dr. Cheek’s estimation, the Institute would help African peoples everywhere “to move with a renewed sense of cooperation and focus on the kind of research, creative work, and collection of material which will enhance our contribution to the development of all humanities growing out of our particular experience and calling on our particular genius as a people.” The Institute explored the broad critical questions of humanistic inquire from the unique perspective of Black awareness—questions of identity, origin, value, direction, and ultimate meaning.
In 1971, Dr. Andrew Billingsley, Vice President for Academic Affairs, appointed a small faculty committee to deliberate and make recommendations for the Institute. The members of the Committee were Dr. Arthur P. Davis, Dr. Jeff Donaldson, Mr. Mark Fax, Dr. Stephen E. Henderson, Mr. John O. Killens, Mr. Don L. Lee, Mr. Mike Malone, Dr. Dorothy Porter, and Dr. Fela Sowande.
IAH’s inaugural staff included Dr. Stephen E. Henderson (Director), Dr. Jeanne-Marie A. Miller (Assistant Director), Clay Goss (Playwright-in-Residence), John Oliver Killens (Writer-in-Residence), Haki Madhubuti (Poet-in-Residence), George L. Starks, Jr. (Ethnomusicologist-in-Residence), Sterling A. Brown (Senior Research Associate), E. Ethelbert Miller (Junior Research Assistant), and Harold L. Burke (Research Assistant for Documentation).
Leon Damas, Arthur P. Davis, James C. Early, Paula J. Giddings, Donald L. Gray, Jennifer Jordan, Lois Jones Pierre-Noel, Bernice Reagon, Okon Edet Uya, and Miriam DeCosta Willis served as founding members of IAH’s Policy Advisory Board.
The seven major programs of the Institute were the archival and documentation program, the workshop program, the research program, the action-centered seminar program, the fellowship program, the publication program, and the festival and writers conference.
This project, Reading the Oral Archive as an Act of Recovery (ROAAR), focuses its attention on the writers' conferences.