Thursday, March 31, 2016

Susannah Ottaway - Compelling Partnerships

Susannah Ottaway is a professor of history at Carleton College, and served as the History Department Chair and Director of the Humanities Center at Carleton College. She was also the David and Marian Adams Bryn-Jones Distinguished Teaching Professor of the Humanities from 2011-2014. At Carleton, much of her energy has been channeled into helping to create and then direct the Humanities Center, which was founded in 2008. As Director, Susannah coordinated a series of Faculty Research Seminars, allocated and supported funding for faculty-student research collaborations, and oversaw the coordination of public outreach and programming in the humanities. Susannah was recently elected to serve on the Board of the Humanities Center and is co-project director of the Humanities Center's new Echoes of War project.

Waiting to meet my daughter near a playground the other day, I heard a familiar sound: “WILL…YOU…JUST…LISTEN…TO…ME?!” A young girl stood with her fists clenched tightly at her sides, eyes screwed up in concentrated fury and frustration. All the force of her will was bent on compelling communication with someone (a parent? a schoolmate?). How often have we all felt that sense of utter powerlessness in the face of another’s apathy, or, worse yet, antipathy?

The urgency of that little girl’s plea struck me so forcefully because it echoes my sense of how desperately our society needs us to pay attention to one another’s voices, especially across borders and barriers of language, faith, status, and ethnicity. But it is easy for us to feel as impotent as ignored children; how can we compel communication that matters? How can we bridge the gaps among us with words that connect us and show us the character and qualities of the differences that define us?  

Learning to listen to the words of others – words from the past or present, from great books or popular culture – is the very essence of all work in the humanities. Literary scholars tease hidden meaning out of complex texts; poets bring emotion to life in stanzas that help us understand the human condition; middle-school history teachers guide students to empathize with past cultures, and so on, in the rich diversity of skills and disciplines that define humanistic inquiry. Communication is what we do in the humanities, and we do it best – in the most transformative manner – when we engage in partnerships that connect us more deeply to our own communities and allow us to achieve authentic insight into the experiences of cultures that are vastly different from our own.

To me, the Minnesota Humanities Center’s ‘Absent Narrative’-based educational programming and its Veterans’ Voices initiative embody this approach to partnership and highlight the work that the public humanities can do to build understanding among the disparate communities whose stories together make up Minnesota’s past, present, and future. As the recent Director of Carleton College’s Humanities Center, I was able to witness the effects of such a partnership when--in conjunction with the Minnesota Humanities Center and with help from our local VFW post Carleton hosted the exhibition 'Always Lost: A Meditation on War.' The exhibit challenged students to confront war in ways that we rarely see in the academy; as one commented on his blog: “The emotional power of the exhibit caught me unprepared…Poignant quotations and poetry…[communicated] that physical pain is only a fraction of the trauma wrought” by war.

Standing in the exhibit, I saw visiting parents absorbing the messages of the exhibition alongside their college students and Carleton faculty, and engaging in conversation with one of the Northfield Veterans who helped us staff the space. That exhibition was made possible not by “outreach” from the college, but by the partnership that connected the college, town, and Humanities Center together in a shared goal of inciting thoughtful engagement with war--one of the most enduring and excruciating plagues of human experience.

As individuals, we can, and should, insist, like the little girl on the playground, that others listen to us. But it is through the compelling partnerships that we form across our institutions and communities that we can sustain conversations and build experiences that can help to transform our society.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Nominate an Outstanding Veteran for the 2016 Veterans’ Voices Award

2015 Veterans’ Voices On the Rise Awardees at 9/11 Award Ceremony

Do you know an exceptional Minnesota Veteran? If so, you should consider nominating him or her for the Minnesota Humanities Center’s 2016 Veterans’ Voices Award.

Now in its fourth year, the Veterans' Voices Award recognizes, amplifies, and honors Minnesotans who have honorably served and are making significant contributions to their communities. These actively engaged, former and current military service members go above and beyond to make positive contributions that improve the lives of people across Minnesota.

To nominate a Veteran for this award, please fill out the online nomination form by Friday, June 3, 2016.

If you are interested in nominating a Veteran but are not quite sure of the process, the Humanities Center is here to help. Two information sessions will be held for interested nominators to share tips on applying:
  • An in-person information session on Friday, April 15, 2016; and
  • An online webinar on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.
All nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, June 3, 2016. Nominees selected to receive an award will be notified by July 8, 2016. All awardees must be able to attend the September 11, 2016 dinner and award ceremony in St. Paul.

Exclusions: Please note that Humanities Center staff, board members, fellows, and consultants are neither eligible to nominate an individual for nor receive a 2016 Veterans' Voices Award.

Consider nominating an extraordinary Veteran in your life! For more information visit:

Some past Veterans’ Voices Awardees have been featured bloggers for the Humanities Center. Here is a  selection of blog posts written by Veterans’ Voices Awardees:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Steve Campos - One Veteran at a Time

Steve Campos, a Veteran from Cottage Grove, retired as a Chief Master Sergeant with 35 combined years of service in the Air Force and the Minnesota Air National Guard. He continues serving Minnesota Veterans through his active involvement in the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Network. He remains active in the Minnesota National Guard Youth Camp, organizes segments honoring Veterans at St. Paul Saints games, participates in United States Postal Service Veteran recognition programs, assists with sending hundreds of items to deployed service members each year, and presents WWII heroes at speaking engagements. Steve is a 2015 Veterans’ Voices Awardee.

Today I would like to talk about Veterans, and especially providing help to Veterans.  There are many, many entities that are out there helping Veterans with all types of resource needs. Many of us are part of organizations that help people, including other Veterans. Helping as a group is easier, but providing help as an individual can be as hard as it is rewarding. I would like to share a powerful story about helping one Veteran at a time and how it can impact both the person helping and the person being helped. It demonstrates what the humanities are all about.

Some time ago, a friend called me to see if I could meet with a Vietnam Veteran who had some pretty dire needs. He lived in an older home that didn’t have any running water--in fact, no running water for almost a year. He was very distrustful of “The Man” as he put it and, at age 72, had a very hard life. He also was a hoarder who had accumulated so much ‘stuff’ that he created a serious problem on his property--so serious that the city was at the point of taking action against him. His small furnace was so rusty I was worried that he would be sickened by carbon dioxide in his home during the winter months. I met with him twice over coffee and rolls and slowly gained his trust. 

To make a long story short, with the help of others, we had his yard cleaned up and came up with a solution for installing city water to replace his broken well. Once these projects were in process, he seemed like a new person; he appeared as if he was on a mission and couldn’t wait to keep moving forward – all because of the help of one person and others who pitched in on the property clean-up. Even though this Veteran passed away that summer, it was obvious that he was happy toward the end, and those of us who helped him felt rewarded, knowing we helped improve both his living situation and his emotional well-being.

At some point, you too, might be faced with an opportunity that will require a big time commitment to help one person. Just remember, life is full of service opportunities. Sometimes we’re called to serve our country, sometimes we’re called to serve our community, and still other times we are called to serve a single person, connecting in our shared humanity, to let them know they aren’t alone.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

2016 Summer Educators' Institute

Calling all Minnesota educators!

As a part of the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Education Strategy in Minnesota, we are hosting an intensive week-long professional learning opportunity for K-12 educators. The Summer Educators’ Institute: Transforming Education Through Absent Narratives offers educators a chance to go deeper with some of the Humanities Center’s most popular offerings while preparing them to increase student engagement.

The Educators’ Institute is firmly grounded in the Absent Narratives approach—the idea that incorporating stories and voices that have traditionally been left out or marginalized in curricula and classrooms leads to stronger relationships and increased engagement at school. Participants will come away from the Institute equipped with resources, tools, and strategies grounded in this approach, as well as a rich network of connections with other educators committed to relationship-based educational change throughout Minnesota.
"I'm very touched by the breadth and depth of perspectives, both in the materials and with the participants." - past participant
Humanities Center professional learning opportunities are designed to work well with teams of educators from a variety of student-facing roles in schools (including, but not limited to, classroom teachers, building administrators, learning specialists, food service workers, and guidance counselors), encouraging them to collaborate and support one another in creating more inclusive experiences at school for students and families. Please visit our webpage to learn more about what makes for a successful team, and to connect with us about bringing a team from your school or community to the Educators’ Institute.
"The event today has opened my mind to thinking differently about how to deal with different situations." - past participant
Best of all, the only cost to attend this week-long, immersive experience (valued at $2,800) is a $150 registration fee, with a 10% discount for teams of three or more, thanks to the support of the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. In return you will receive 45+ clock hours, all meals, and lodging if you are coming from outside the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Optional graduate credit is available for an additional cost through Metropolitan State University’s Urban Education Program.

[Learn more]

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Julianne Schwietz - Common-Unity

Julianne Schwietz has worked at the Minnesota Humanities Center for seven years and currently serves as the facilitator instructor and project lead in the Omaha Public Schools course work, Increase Student Engagement through Absent Narratives.

I must have been in kindergarten, or close to that age, when I made my way through the neighborhood, building community. I knocked at doors and had my question ready for the adult who was sure to answer: “Do you have anyone here I can play with?”

The word “community” comes from the root words, common and unity. We humans learn long-held patterns adopted in our common-unity, through socialization.  
The process of learning to adopt the behavior patterns of the community is called socialization. The most fertile time of socialization is usually… between the ages of one and ten… during which individuals develop the skills and knowledge and learn the roles necessary to function within their culture and social environment. But socialization also includes adults moving into a significantly different environment, where they must learn a new set of behaviors.

The degree to which the norms of a particular society or community are adopted determines one's willingness to engage with others. The norms of tolerance, reciprocity, and trust are important "habits of the heart," as de Tocqueville put it, in an individual's involvement in community.*
If you grew up, as I did, in an all-white (or all-black or other “all”), Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Muslim, or etc. community, our early childhood socialization “trained” us to see anyone outside of the comfortable norms of our surroundings as “different,” and “other” than “us.” The bigger our community (majority rather than minority), the less inclusive our norms are. 

In order for the world (our expanding community) to get along, we must learn new norms. Flip the script and take a look at how we are alike, and what we have in common—in our humanity—rather than focusing on how we are different, and what sets us apart. From this viewpoint, we can choose to form connections that lead to community-building in our now global society.

My own learning about this was tested when my American Catholic daughter fell in love with and married a Bangladeshi Muslim man, each retaining their own belief systems while accepting one another’s. They currently live, with their children, across the planet in his home country.

It’s hard to learn to let go of our own closely-held beliefs when we bump up against an unfamiliar way of life. But learn we must, because rejecting new ways shuts down relationships and forms hurtful gaps between us. Acceptance and a willingness to learn bridge us closer to one another.

My role with the Humanities Center, as well as my M.A. in Human Development focuses on the process of learning that we adults face in our changing communities. I’ve outgrown going door-to-door looking for playmates, but I continue to invite connection.

At the Humanities Center, the foundational understanding of the purpose of our work is embedded in our course Increase Engagement through Absent Narratives. In a nutshell, it is about learning from and with others in order to adapt our behavior patterns and fully engage with one another in common-unity.

*Cited at