The Kansas Humanities Council is celebrating 45 years of bringing history and culture to communities across the state this year.
"Public humanities programs, in whatever form they take and whatever specific needs they address, are all about context and perspective and human connection to other times and places and viewpoints and each other," said Julie Mulvihill, executive director of the Kansas Humanities Council.
Supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, KHC awards grants and organizes programs featuring speakers, authors and films. Events are provided at a minimal cost to the hosting organizations.
"They're great to work with. The process to apply for grants, whether it's to bring a speaker in or for a research project, is very simple," said Debra Hiebert, director of the Harvey County Historical Museum. "Even people who are not professional grant writers can easily work their way through it."
KHC's speakers talk about a variety of topics — from current social issues to historical events — all having a link to Kansas.
"They are very in touch with who their constituency is and in getting topics out to people," Hiebert said. "The topics are usually those we can't find a local speaker to speak on."
Offering the programs for the public to attend without charge, KHC's presenters often include the audience in the program.
"We do tend to get really good crowds when we have a KHC speaker," Hiebert said. "It's not just a dry lecture."
Kori Thompson is part of KHC's Speakers Bureau, a group of presenters who travel the state, giving a talk on a particular topic up to several times per month.
"Without the KHC organization and their efforts, I would not be able to go out to talk to many people about my topic; it would just be something that only academics read and know about," Thompson noted.
Thompson shares her research concerning inmates from the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory who were originally barred from serving within a military capacity during World War I.
"The traveling is not bad, because I get to meet new and interesting people, see different areas of Kansas and learn about the various communities," Thompson said.
Getting to converse face-to-face is part of why speakers drive to cities that can be hours away from their hometown.
"I see KHC doing exactly what the Public Broadcasting Service does, except on a more personal basis — getting people directly connected and interacting in a world where things are moving more towards being impersonal and digital, where knowledge is believed to start and stop with the internet," Thompson said.
Topics for the KHC presentations include history, sports, architecture, agriculture and social issues in Kansas.
"Many of us had that moment when the humanities clicked for us – the project we participated in, the book discussion we joined at the library, the presentation we heard at the museum, the exhibition we created," Mulvihill said. "KHC has given me many of these moments, including more than a few from the Newton area, like the opening of Yesterday’s Tomorrows, a Smithsonian exhibition at the museum, watching the Chautauqua tent go up in Hesston, and a book discussion with the pros at the Newton Public Library."
Gene Chavez has participated in the Speakers Bureau for more than 20 years.
"Over the years, the discussion leaders have become more diverse," Chavez said. "It's not just all scholars, it's people who are working and bringing history as well as the humanities to the communities."
Chavez facilitates a discussion-style presentation with his audiences, most recently speaking about the history and tradition of making tortillas.
"I think people are very appreciative of that," Chavez said. "It's had a great impact to bring discussions of history, of culture, of historical development to small communities and that the people there have been impacted positively."
Angela Bates of the KHC Speakers Bureau speaks about how the town of Nicodemus was founded by freed slaves and how slavery impacted their culture then and today.
"I try and make sure that I create an atmosphere of trust and openness regarding sometimes sensitive issues related to race, and am amazed at the open questions and discussions that follow," Bates said.
The reception she receives around the state is encouraging to Bates.
"Kansas is a great state and the people who make up this great state are more progressive than many people may think," Bates said. "I’m proud and glad that I am afforded the opportunity to share our stories through the KHC. I pray it is always funded — it’s a great source to spread great history to our Kansas residents."