In the summer of 2020, Kristina Moe was preparing to open Water/Ways, a Smithsonian travelling exhibit and one of the first North Carolina Humanities “Watershed Moments” events of the year, at the Macon County Public Library where she works as a reference assistant. “To be honest, I was very nervous,” Moe recalled.
Carol Ann Carl, a storyteller from Pohnpei Island in the Federated States of Micronesia, talks about how she uses poetry to advocate for historically marginalized communities, and two-term US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey describes how poetry can articulate acts of civic engagement.
Poet, writer, and physician Dr. Rafael Campo reads his poem “The Doctor’s Song” and talks about the healing power of the humanities. Dr. Gioia Woods, a professor in the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies at Northern Arizona University, unpacks The Pandemic Stories Project, a reading, discussion, and oral history program she created to document the impact of COVID-19 in her rural community.
Teaching, learning, listening, and reflecting–this is just a snapshot of the work humanities councils are doing this month and all year long.
Grounding ourselves in civic history means embracing generations of community. This doesn’t mean that we must all agree, but instead that we listen to one another across the different places, lived experiences, and rich cultures that make up our nation.
From natural resources to time-honored American traditions, humanities councils tend to the spaces and structures that support and define our nation.
Where we are affects what we do, and that relationship extends to civic participation across the nation. From a rural island off the mainland of Amerika Samoa to Philadelphia, a city at the center of national news during the last election cycle, that environment will motivate people’s civic investment in different ways.
Civic engagement itself takes many forms across communities, and one of the most recognizable acts of civic engagement is voting. The right to vote has historically fallen along lines of identity. Take the Voting Rights Act of 1965, for instance, which prohibited discrimination in voting based on race—that’s only been in place for 56 years of our country’s history.
Given the upheaval and tragic losses of the pandemic, among so many other unprecedented events that have since materialized, it makes sense that our ideas about civic tenets like community, responsibility, and involvement are changing.
Distinguished University Professor in African American Studies at Wayne State University and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan, Dr. Melba Boyd sees the humanities as playing a specific and significant role in Detroit’s evolution. In turn, she notes, looking at that development also helps us understand changing perceptions of the humanities at large.
Last year, our nation faced exceptional circumstances, and humanities councils responded in kind with an incredible array of programming. So for the first time, the Federation awarded the Schwartz Prize in two categories: one for outstanding public humanities programming and the other for innovative programming created specifically in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2021 Annual Business Meeting of the Federation House of Delegates will take place virtually on Saturday, November 13 from 4:00 to 5:30 pm EST.