Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Somali Bilingual Book Project

In 2006, the Minnesota Humanities Center, in collaboration with members of the Minnesota Somali community, launched the Somali Bilingual Book Project. Our shared goal was to ensure the community had high-quality authentic resources that represent multiple voices. The project culminated with the publication of four traditional Somali folktales, using both English and Somali, as well as dual-language audio and video recordings. The books, audio/video recordings, and reading guides are all available for free download on our Absent Narrative Resource Collection.

The Lion's Share - Qayb Libaas
Retold by Said Salah Ahmed, Illustrated by Kelly Dupre.

This traditional Somali folktale tells an animal fable about the misuse of power. The animals all work together to kill a camel, but then the lion comes and demands that they give him a share. Although he did none of the work, he ends up with most of the camel, prompting the other animals to say, "The lion's share is not fair."

Dhegdheer, A Scary Somali Folktale
Retold by Marian A. Hassan, Illustrated by Betsy Bowen.

In this hair-raising cautionary tale from Somalia, the Hargega Valley is plagued by the monstrous Dhegdheer, a witch who gobbles up anyone unlucky enough to cross her path. A widow and her young son try to escape her. Will they be Dhegdheer's next meal or will their virtue save them and help bring an end to Dhegdheer's reign of terror?

Wiil Waal: A Somali Folktale
Retold by Kathleen Moriarty, Illustrated by Amin Amir. Somali translation by Jamal Adam.

When a wise Somali leader asks the men in his province to bring him the part of a sheep that best symbolizes what can divide men or unite them as one, most present him with prime cuts of meat. But one very poor man's daughter has a different idea. In this clever folktale, a father reluctantly follows his daughter's advice and has astonishing results.

The Travels of Igal Shidad - Safarada Cigaal Shidaad
Retold by Kelly Dupre, Illustrated by Amin Amir. Somali translation by Said Salah Ahmed.

The figure of Igal Shidad is a staple in Somali folklore. Like many Somali people, he and his family were nomadic herders of camel and sheep. Thousands of funny stories were told of Igal because even though he was a wise man, he was also known as a coward. Igal's unreasonable fears caused him much trouble, but with cleverness and faith, he always managed to find solutions to his problems. In this story, Igal walks the drought-stricken Somali landscape, searching for a better home for his family and animals, asking for Allah's guidance along the way. As he confronts obstacles, both real and imagined, he discovers his prayers can be answered without his even realizing.

These books are all part of the Humanities Center’s online Absent Narratives Resource Collection – a searchable database of ready-to-use videos, educator guides, and readings that will support efforts to include the ‘missing stories’ of various communities in your classroom or workplace. Most items included in the collection have been created or developed by the Humanities Center and its partners.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sushmita Hodges, PhD - My Absent Narratives Journey: Bringing Human Connections Into Focus

Dr. Sushmita Hodges currently teaches courses in world history (10th grade) and global issues (senior elective) at St. Paul Academy and Summit School in St. Paul. During her 15 years at SPA Hodges has advised student groups including Women in Learning and Leadership and Intercultural Club and Common Ground (affinity group for students of color). She has also held adjunct positions at Hamline University teaching the South Asian immigrant experience as well as courses for the Asian Studies department at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. Hodges’s focus as a historian has been to develop curriculum that engages students in critical thinking and problem solving skills through relevant collaborative projects.

As a historian and globalist who has taught for 25 years, both in higher and secondary education, I deeply value and support the humanities as a core aspect of a liberal arts education, and believe they can help build a globally competent society. Regardless of whether students pursue science, technology, or business, the humanities provide the tools necessary for individuals to relate to each other in the real world. The humanities are the window into the past, present, and future from which we can learn and build a better, more sustainable and equitable future. I believe – both on a personal and a professional level – it is the humanities that provide a cross-cultural context to recognize the importance of how all humanity is inter-connected.

Over the course of the last three years the various professional opportunities that the Minnesota Humanities Center has afforded me have strengthened and informed my work as a historian. Starting with their foundational workshop, Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives, to participating in the year-long Absent Narratives Collaborative, utilizing the Digital Suitcase curriculum resources on human trafficking, taking part in the Humanities Center’s Educators’ Institute pilot program, and finally, collaborating on the development of  curriculum resources for use with the Blues Vision anthology of African American writing in Minnesota, the Humanities Center has raised my consciousness exponentially about the real impact of history on marginalized communities at the local level. I have always—in my curriculum development and teaching of world history—been aware of the dominant Eurocentric narrative and have made a concerted effort to teach with a focus on voices in the periphery such as the working class, women, indigenous people, slaves, and the global south. However my association with the Humanities Center, and continued work with the absent narratives pedagogy, has further helped me fine tune and hone in those skills.

Throughout writing lessons for my 10th grade world history classes I am conscious of the power of words and descriptions of the historical narrative. I see the importance of teaching students to question and challenge the master dominant narrative as they engage in this writing exercise. Teaching about the modern period in history I constantly struggle with trying to help students be open to new ways of knowing and being that are different from mainstream cultural norms. This teaching process frequently involves critically examining how the idea of “modernity” is only defined through the lens of Western values. For example, I have shown students how the “colonial enterprise” flourished as a result of the exploitation and oppression of the colonized peoples which resulted in the demise of traditional cultural practices, quashed by European ruling class practices. Once students can attribute the “rise of the west” to the resources, labor, and land of the colonized, and not merely to the prowess of the colonizer, they are able to begin opening their hearts and minds to an honest narrative. Understanding a more multi-dimensional narrative makes room and space for communities and groups whose voices have been historically silenced.

For students to gain insight and build empathy it is important to develop authentic projects that are inquiry-based and include a problem solving component. Teaching students the framework of grassroots movements, how to campaign and resolve conflicts as well as build a future based on equity and justice. To arrive at this juncture I emphasize the value of dialogue and conversation rather than simple debate. The absent narratives method has taught me to move beyond deconstruction and “healthy skepticism” to understand and embrace experiences that have been historically undermined. It is important to recognize not just adoption of the additive approach to absent narratives but also being willing to accept the value of different worldviews.

As a teacher in the humanities it is my responsibility to create opportunities for students to experience and feel the historical narrative from the disenfranchised perspective through research projects and other relevant activities. This approach in the long run will help build global and cultural competencies among students and enable the creation of a more collaborative, sustainable world.

Personally, for me, the absent narratives journey has empowered me not to just acknowledge wounds inflicted through the dominant master narrative, but through telling the whole story, begin the healing process that is long overdue.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Louis Goldstein - Who Is Really a Hero?

Louis Goldstein, a Veteran of the Army Reserve from Hutchinson, has been described as a “pillar in the community” for Veterans returning wounded from a tour of duty. While under fire on a deployment in Afghanistan, he suffered Traumatic Brain Injury and was awarded the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and an Army Commendation Medal. Goldstein works with the Wounded Warrior Project in the Twin Cities, where he is the Alumni Manager and helps those suffering from traumatic injury in wars since 9/11. He is also a 2014 Veterans’ Voices Awardee.

Recently, while traveling, I was approached by a gentleman who asked if I had served in the military (I was wearing a t-shirt that had a military theme). I stated that I have, and still do continue to serve, thinking that he would thank me for my service and be on his way. This was not the case. He did thank me, but added that he thought what I was doing was heroic. This gentleman knew nothing more of my service other than that I had served in the military in some capacity and in some way, shape, or form still serve our country.

While I appreciated his kind words and his appreciation for my service, the term heroic struck me. I have come to despise the term hero for its overuse in regards to military service. I do not think of myself as a hero and many -- if not all -- military service members who I have spoken to about the term hero would say the same. There is nothing implicitly heroic about serving in the military. This over use of the word hero has diluted its meaning and purpose to the point that we as a society cannot truly identify real heroes.

As an active participant in the Wounded Warrior Project and a 2014 Veterans’ Voices Awardee, I have witnessed many heroic actions. Tomorrow, on September 11th, the Minnesota Humanities Center will again celebrate and honor Minnesota Veterans for their service to this country and continued leadership in their communities. These Veterans may well be heroes, but not just because they served in the military, but because they continue to work for the good of their communities and those who rely on them in their own hometowns.

The next time you feel yourself wanting to call a Veteran or a member of the military a hero, stop and ask yourself, why? What is it that makes someone a hero? Does the Veteran or member of the military you are addressing possess those qualities, or do you just feel compelled by society to use that word?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Marya Morstad - Art & Humanities: A Timely Collaboration

Marya Morstad is the longtime host of the weekly arts interview program, “Art Matters” on KFAI-FM Community Radio. She produced the award-winning documentary, “Art and Spirit Matters: Arts and Religion in the Twin Cities” as well as the program “Art is Patriotic: Artists Respond to the Republican National Convention,” and has produced 80 audio portraits of Minnesota artists for Marya has also worked for Mizna’s Twin Cities Arab Film Festival and for the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.

A suggested question for a guest blogger for the Minnesota Humanities Center is: How do you personally define, think about, or relate to the concept of “humanities.” When I researched the humanities, I found many defining concepts: The study of human culture. Self-expression. Significance. Meaning. The disciplines of memory and imagination. The immeasurable. The pursuit of ideas. The heart and soul of the matter. The microcosm of life. Probing what it means to be human. Answering the question: Why are we here?

As the host and producer of the weekly arts talk program, Art Matters on KFAI-FM Community Radio (Wednesdays at 7pm), I curate conversations and engage others in dialogue about arts and culture. In over two decades of producing my program, I estimate that I have conducted over 3,500 radio interviews. I keep asking questions, but I know less about the mysteries of human imagination and creativity than I ever did, although I never tire of this exploration. I recently read that the humanities offer clues, but never a complete answer. I have never defined what I was doing as the work of the humanities, but it is nothing if not that. I respect that it is not easy baring your soul on the stage, or in a memoir, or on the big screen. But that artistic self-disclosure can provide more meaning, insight, empathy, and understanding to the audience, which in turn enriches the cultural fabric of society as a whole.

Several years ago I produced an audio documentary, “Art and Spirit Matters: Art and Religion in the Twin Cities,” an interfaith, cross-cultural look at matters of art and spirit, with topics ranging from Gospel to Goddess worship, Islamic installation art to Jewish Sephardic music and the preservation of the Tibetan sacred and folk arts. Ironically, in some of the cultures of the artists I interviewed, there was no word for “art;” it is not a separate endeavor, but part of everyday life. One of the artists I featured was the poet J. Otis Powell‽ (the interrobang—a punctuation mark combining both a question and an exclamation point—at the end of his name is worthy of an interview on its own). I told him that I appreciated delving deeply into the material and producing a documentary that was not time-sensitive, but more timeless in nature. Ever the prodding mentor and wordsmith, he countered: “Timely!”

I also produced an audio documentary called “Art is Patriotic.” In politically charged times, conversations of art and culture offer a soothing balm and open the path for dialogue. If you talk about politics, it can be polarizing, but if you talk about art and politics, you may be closer to having a meaningful discussion about how policy affects society. In my work for Mizna’s Twin Cities Arab Film Festival, we screened scores of films from 22 different nations ranging from The United Arab Emirates to the Gaza Strip in Palestine to North Africa during the Arab Spring. The humanities manifest in the film arts though the authentic lens of independent filmmakers and allow one to deconstruct and reconstruct images we are fed in the media, by connecting directly with everyday people.

Often, artists can measure the temperature of a society by reflecting back through music, visual art, theater, and other art forms what we are collectively witnessing and experiencing. They can be creative visionaries and truth-tellers, and the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. Art and cultural expression can be beautiful, provocative, humanizing, and soulful.

What are the humanities to me? Timeless and Timely!