Dr. Bruce Cole is the President and CEO of the American Revolution Center (ARC), the first national institution devoted to exploring the history and continuing impact of the American Revolution. Before coming to ARC, Cole served as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), where he managed a budget of $150 million and a staff of 170 and was responsible for awards totaling over $800 million dollars. Appointed by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2001 and again in 2005, Cole was the longest serving Chairman of the NEH. Under Cole’s leadership, the NEH launched key initiatives, including We the People, a program designed to encourage the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture, and the Picturing America project, which uses great American art to teach our nation’s history and culture in 80,000 schools and public libraries nationwide. He also created the NEH’s Digital Humanities Initiative and Office which made the Endowment a national leader in this new frontier of humanities access and knowledge. Under his tenure partnerships were developed with several foreign countries, including Mexico and China.
Cole’s connection with the Endowment began when he received an NEH fellowship. He subsequently served as a panelist in NEH's peer review system, and then as a member for seven years of the National Council on the Humanities, the presidentially appointed and senate-confirmed 26-member NEH advisory board. Cole came to the Endowment in December 2001, from Indiana University in Bloomington, where he was Distinguished Professor of Art History and Professor of Comparative Literature. In 2008, he received the President’s Medal from the University for “excellence in service, achievement and teaching.” In 2006, Governor Mitch Daniels awarded Cole the Sagamore of the Wabash, which recognizes individuals who have brought distinction to the state of Indiana.
Born in Ohio, Cole attended Case Western Reserve University and earned a master's degree from Oberlin College and a doctorate from Bryn Mawr College. He is also a recipient of nine honorary doctorate degrees.
For two years he was the William E. Suida Fellow at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. Cole has held fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies,
the Kress Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is a corresponding member of the Accademia Senesedegli Intronati, the oldest learned society in Europe. He has written fourteen books and numerous articles.
Cole served on the U.S. National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Woodrow Wilson Center board, and is a member of several boards, including American Heritage, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the Villa Firenze Foundation. He has been appointed by the U.S. Senate to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. In 2010, Cole was appointed by Governor Mitch Daniels to Indiana University's Board of Trustees.
In November 2008, President Bush awarded Dr. Cole the Presidential Citizens Medal “for his work to strengthen our national memory and ensure that our country’s heritage is passed on to future generations.”
The medal is one of the highest honors the President can confer upon a civilian, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Earlier in 2008, Cole was decorated Knight of the Grand Cross, the highest honor of the Republic of Italy.