NHC Perspectives: Four Oceanic Region Host Councils. Sixteen Time Zones. Thirteen Committee Members.

November 6, 2019

Four Oceanic Region Host Councils. Sixteen Time Zones. Thirteen Committee Members.
Take a peek inside planning the 2019 National Humanities Conference from the perspective of 2019 Planning Committee Chair and California Humanities President/CEO Julie Fry.

When I was invited to chair the 2019 National Humanities Conference planning committee, I didn’t think twice about saying yes.  It wasn’t because of the Hawai’i conference location, the first time that this conference has every taken place outside of the continental U.S. (although that didn’t hurt, to be sure).  It wasn’t because I was 100 percent confident in my facilitation skills, with so many knowledgeable and experienced colleagues on the committee. It was because I was so drawn to the conference theme: “Roots and Routes: Navigation, Migration and Exchange in the 21st Century.” I relished the opportunity to be involved in helping us all to learn more deeply and authentically about the stories and cultures of the Pacific islands in which personally I have only had a passing acquaintance.  The conversations we will have this year, with local practitioners from Hawai’i and the Oceanic region and humanities scholars, will illuminate this important piece of place-based culture and history. They will also encourage us to think about our own places and how people arrive, become part of, and add to the rich tapestry of our communities.

What happens behind the scenes of putting this conference is nothing short of miraculous, from globe-spanning committee planning calls, to reviewing and selecting from a wide array of conference sessions and speakers, to the dedicated attention to both big picture conference vision and small logistical details by the staff of both the Federation of State Humanities Councils and the National Humanities Alliance.  A special thank you to our four council co-hosts this year, for their efforts in pulling together off-site events, funding, and local voices:  Hawai’i Council for the Humanities, Humanities Guåhan, Northern Marianas Humanities Council, and the Amerika Samoa Humanities Council.

This will be my fifth National Humanities Conference; the first was in 2015 in St. Louis, nine months into my tenure at California Humanities.  By then I was starting to understand more about how different councils serve their state, the critical role the Federation plays, and our own organization.  Attending the conference accelerated that understanding, providing a practical underpinning that I know I put into use the moment that I returned home – along with a new network of experts to call upon.  If this is your first NHC, I encourage you to meet everyone that you can, ask questions, slip in a walk on the beach to give yourself space to breathe, and know that you are part of a public humanities network that thrives together, both at the conference and beyond.

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