Monday, August 7, 2017

Christianna Shortridge - Connecting Full Circle in a Digital World

Christianna Shortridge is the former Communications Director of the Minnesota Humanities Center. She recently relocated to Truckee, California where she will transfer her humanities communications work to a new state. Christianna will write her new blog, SpiritChange, hike in the Sierra Nevada, and pursue her new dream of creating mosaic art out of strategically broken heirloom dishes.

How long does it take to design a new website? How will our programs and events be highlighted? Can we change that header title? When can I get a peek?

These are just a few of the questions that I heard during my 18-month stint leading the production team of this new website that you are enjoying today. But this is not just a website . . . this is a vital piece of the Minnesota Humanities Center's messaging & digital storytelling project.

This messaging and digital storytelling project includes key messaging, engaging photography, relevant content, social media, and many other elements. This project has offered opportunities for clear messaging, a clean and simple design, and concise content created not only with a stellar internal team but also with design and storytelling experts at Haberman in Minneapolis and with scholars, staff, and the board members of the Humanities Center.

What you are looking at now is a true reflection of collaborative work that is at the heart of the Humanities Center — the stories, cultures, people, and communities that encompass the humanities in Minnesota. This new digital experience intentionally includes the many voices and communities that make Minnesota such an incredible place, including those often missing voices or absent narratives.

As you scroll and click through the Humanities Center's new site, you will see a theme of circular connectivity woven throughout the pages. Circles. Story circles, the Humanities Center circle logo, the collaborative work of the Humanities Center. It is all circular and connected — focusing on what unites us and not what divides us. Even in our hectic digital world, we all need to fall back on the humanities, which help us connect and understand our world and each other.

Rich in content and visually stunning (in my opinion), this new website encompasses the collaborative, community spirit which makes the Humanities Center a place where people want to gather, learn, connect, and grow. The more you dig into this site the more you will discover how the humanities are alive and part of your everyday life, connecting us all together in this great human community.

Welcome to the new site! We hope you enjoy it and find it a useful tool as you navigate and engage with the humanities in Minnesota.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Jennifer Tonko - Why Treaties Matter — to all Minnesotans

Jennifer Tonko is the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Program Officer for Community Engagement and Traveling Exhibits. 

“All Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby.” — United States Constitution, article VI, clause 2

So, if you’re not a Native person, what do treaties have to do with you? Aren’t treaties out-of-date—why do they still matter?

When I started working at the Minnesota Humanities Center, I spent a lot of time learning from the other people who worked here about our mission and values and our culture as an organization. One of our core values was “learning from.” This is really shorthand for “learn from, not about” a people, a place, or a practice.

On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. After all, if people wanted to know what growing up in rural Iowa was like in the 80s and 90s, I’d say, “Learn from me! That’s my experience!” On the other hand, this is completely counter to the way the American educational and academic systems work. The educational powers-that-be tend to look for “experts,” and “experts” tend to be defined as people (often white, often male) educated in the academy using sources that are approved by current or former scholars from the academy that are usually presented as objective.

So “learn from, not about” is actually kind of radical. Instead of learning about a group of people from a designated “expert,” learn from individual people about themselves. Learn from lots of them. Learn from two or three or four or 100 people who might appear similar on paper, but who have different experiences and different values and different selves. Learn from people who actually think, feel, believe, and understand different things about how the world works, how the world should be, and how we, as humans, should behave in the world.

You can also learn from a place. You can learn from the place that is now called Minnesota. And if you are here in Minnesota, one of the first questions you might ask yourself is, “How did I get here?” And, unless you are a Dakota person, your story will be about a migration of some sort. Dakota people’s stories of getting here are different and not mine to tell, but if you’re in Minnesota, your story has intersected with Dakota people’s stories, whether you know it or not. Your story has also intersected with Ojibwe people’s stories. A key way that your story has intersected with indigenous people’s stories (if you’re not indigenous yourself) is through treaties. How do we learn from that?

We can start with learning from the people who know it best. Beginning in 2010, the Minnesota Humanities Center was privileged to work with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council to create an exhibit that tells some of these stories: Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations. This exhibit was created with Dakota and Ojibwe scholars. The exhibit content was approved by all 11 sovereign nations within Minnesota.

Throughout Minnesota history, Native people have retained sovereignty and rights in exchange for land—lots of land. How treaties have been honored and how treaties have been broken shape who you are now and how you live in this place. And, you now have a chance to learn more about that from Dakota and Ojibwe people — the people who know it best — at the Minnesota State Capitol. As part of the Capitol remodel, the Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations is now on display on the third floor, in the hallway that connects public conference rooms 316-317 and the Cass Gilbert library.

I hope you will take this opportunity to visit the “people’s house” and learn from our Native Minnesota community about their stories and their sovereignty in a place that is open and welcome to all.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Suzanne Constantini - I’m A Better Person for Having Spent a Year in Vietnam

Suzanne Constantini is an Army Nurse Corps Veteran, having served one year in Vietnam. She received her BSN from Alverno College, in Milwaukee, WI and her MBA from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN. Her career in nursing spans 46 years holding various leadership positions: head nurse, clinical director and VP of Patient Care Services. She retired in January 2015 and now spends her time volunteering, painting, traveling, reading and gardening.

It was spring of 1968 and I was busy completing my junior year in the nursing program at Alverno College. During that time, an army recruiter was on campus and I decided to set up a meeting to learn if there were any opportunities that would help me fund my last year in school. The army offered to pay my tuition for my final year and, in return, I would give them a two-year commitment for military service. I entered the Army Nurse Corps in November of 1968 as a student nurse and subsequently completed my degree in May of 1969. After completing basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX, I was assigned to Martin Army Hospital in Fort Benning, GA. Much to my delight, I was assigned to the pediatric unit to care for the children of the resident military personnel.

In early January 1970, I received orders for Vietnam. I wasn’t afraid to go and believed that every American soldier deserved the best medical care the United States could offer. I was confident I could use my nursing skills to help deliver that care.

When I arrived in Vietnam on March 7, 1970, I was processed through the 90th replacement center in Long Binh and received my assignment to Cu Chi. Oh my! When my boots hit the tarmac, I felt overwhelmed and encompassed by the sounds, the smells, the heat, and the whirl of the chopper blades in the background. At that moment, I had to really reach deep inside to remember why I was there.

I was assigned to the post-operative recovery room and ICU. The trauma I witnessed was horrible and I still remember the first soldier who died on my watch. I cared for him every day for six weeks; 12 hours a day, six days a week. His name and face are etched in my memory, and when I close my eyes I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday. The empathy and camaraderie I experienced following his death, helped provide a psychological and physical healing, but I would never again remember any last names or let myself get emotionally attached. Years later, during a visit to Washington D.C., I went to the “Wall.” I found that soldier’s name and touched it, and when I did, I found peace in knowing he was home.

Although my year in Vietnam was long and difficult, I got through it and found the ability to cope, adapt, improvise, and make tough decisions – sometimes under the most dire of circumstances. As I reflect on that year, I know the clinical experiences, collegial relationships, and camaraderie of my Vietnam experiences formed the foundation for my nursing career, as well as defining the way I lead my life today. When my world seems to be closing in around me, I revert back to those days in Vietnam so long ago and say, “It don’t mean nothin’.”

Suzanne’s experience and those like hers are a critical part of the story of the war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia in the American and world consciousness. This September, when PBS premieres the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary, “The Vietnam War,” these stories will once again rise to the forefront of the national dialogue, and the Minnesota Humanities Center is poised to help further and facilitate those important conversations. If you are interested in hosting conversations about Vietnam and the war in your community, please consider becoming a host site for Minnesota Remembers Vietnam.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

War & Remembrance: Bringing New Perspective to the State Capitol Mall Memorials

According to the Oxford English dictionary, a ‘war memorial’ is a “monument commemorating those killed in a war.” Memorials of all kinds have been erected in the U.S. to commemorate wars and those individuals who served throughout our country’s history, ranging from the nationally known Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, to single statues or plaques on display in town squares across the country. Like most states, Minnesota has its share of small-town memorials, but also boasts a large and varied display of memorials situated on our State Capitol Mall in St. Paul. Included among the many statues, art pieces, and plaques, is a World War II Memorial, a Korean War Memorial, and a Vietnam War Memorial, as well as a unique and moving Minnesota Military Family Tribute area, lending a voice to the non-military citizens who deal with fallout from war — the families of those who served or are serving. Part of that Family Tribute area features “Story Stones” — large rocks with etched statements taken from the letters of soldiers who were in service away from their homes and families , spanning a time period from the Civil War through to present day. Three very different examples of these Story Stones include the following:
There is no language that can describe, no pen, picture, or painting that can or ever will illustrate the scenes that transpired.
1862 – Waseca

Though oceans and islands may keep us apart, nothing can take you out of my heart.
1943 – Beltrami

Dear Mom, I miss you like crazy!
2014 - Isanti
If you have not spent time taking in the memorials on the State Capitol Mall, you should plan to go and see these monuments and statues and plaques up close. There is something about being in the presence of these often thoughtful and sometimes poignant remembrance pieces that helps make all of the history recounted by them more real, despite the bronze, and stone, and frozen-in-time faces. This is especially true of those memorials — like the Vietnam War Memorial and the Korean War Memorial — that list the names of those who served but did not return, giving you a very tangible look at the human cost of war.

Both adults interested in state and/or military history and students could benefit from some on-the-ground experience in this walkable memorial park, experiencing awe at the number and design of the memorials, and taking time to read inscriptions and the names of those who did not return from war. If you want to delve deeper into the differences between memorializing war and remembrance of the people and events involved, you should check out the “Reflections on War and Service” guide developed by the Minnesota Humanities Center in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs — available to download for free from our Absent Narratives Resource Collection. Although it was developed for use by educators, the guide is full of reflection questions and information useful to anyone visiting the memorials who might want to spend additional time contemplating deeper questions around war. Specifically, the guide is designed to help you think more clearly about the differences between how war is memorialized and how war is remembered by the individuals — the Veterans and their families — who experienced it.

For educators who are interested in gaining an even more in-depth view of the memorials and learning about presenting the information to different age groups, the Humanities Center is co-sponsoring (with the Minnesota History Center) the War and Remembrance Educator Workshop on August 3. The workshop will include learning from and with Veterans and a facilitated tour of the State Capitol war memorials. For more details and to register, visit

No matter how deeply you choose to explore the State Capitol memorials, we suspect you will come away from your visit with new perspectives on war and will feel more connected to the individuals who are remembered there.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Miki Huntington - Celebrate Your Engagement!

Miki Huntington is a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Army. She teaches Political Science at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, where she is also eLearning Consultant for the Center for Teaching and Learning and co-chair of the Yellow Ribbon Steering Committee that connects and provides services for veterans and their families. In addition, she serves as Community Faculty at Metropolitan State University in the College of Individualized Studies CIS. Miki is honored to be a repeat attendee and facilitator for the Increasing Engagement through Absent Narratives program.

I remember my engagement to be married almost 20 years ago. The excitement and anticipation…I couldn’t wait for the adventures that lay ahead in our lives together. But it’s important to remember that the word engagement has different meanings in different contexts.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers five definitions for the word “engagement,” which I’ll use to highlight my connection to the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshop:  
  1. An arrangement to meet or be present at a specified time and place
  2. Something that engages
  3. The act of engaging; emotional involvement or commitment
  4. The state of being in gear
  5. A hostile encounter between military forces
First, my introduction to the Humanities Center began with an opportunity for me to be present at an Increase Engagement Trough Absent Narratives workshop that was held in conjunction with a national traveling photos/poetry/prose exhibit titled Always Lost: A Meditation on War. The Humanities Center facilitated this exhibit’s journey through Minnesota, allowing it to travel to several of our communities around the state, including the college where I teach – Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). We were honored to host the exhibit and I had my first opportunity to participate in an Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshop.

Second, it would be an understatement to say the Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshop is something that engages! The Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshop serves as an introduction to the core strategies and concepts of the Humanities Center’s approach to community engagement through absent narratives – those voices or stories often left out or marginalized. The first Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshop I attended highlighted often misunderstood or marginalized Veterans’ voices in conjunction with the Always Lost exhibit.

Third, participation in Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives is an emotional involvement or commitment. It is a professional development offering that prepares participants to know absent narratives as human experiences that change minds and hearts and lead to empowerment. I was challenged to think in a new way through new paradigms and to seek innovative ways of being and doing.

Fourth is the state of being in gear. Now, I must admit my first foray into the Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshop came with feelings of trepidation and uncertainty. I was, after all, a 25-year Army Veteran who was more practiced at concealing my emotions than “balancing head and heart” and sharing my feelings. However, after my first Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshop I was hooked, and I became a repeat participant and eventually a facilitator. I am so honored to be a part of this program!

Lastly, for those who care deeply about diversity, equity, and inclusion, though we may face challenges in promoting personal and professional development about these topics, the Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshop offers an alternative entry point. Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives offers another way of engaging in this important dialogue in a way that avoids hostile encounters about the subject by focusing on ways to embrace and include the absent narratives, identify key practices, and practice reflection to foster greater connection, empowerment, and yes…inclusion. Keeping all definitions in mind, I plan to actively continue my engagement with the Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshops and the participants who are interested in exploring deeper engagement using the ideas fostered in those workshops!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Nicolaas VanMeerten - Sharing Experiences Through Video Games

Nicolaas VanMeerten is the Senior Programs Director at GLITCH, and third year Ph.D. student in the Educational Psychology program at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Nic is a data scientist by trade and his research focuses on learning behaviors in complex multiplayer video game environments.

Video games are an ideal medium for documenting and communicating the human experience. They allow us to take on the role of someone else and share in their experiences through a digital environment. For example, the game This War of Mine, which was inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, was developed to communicate what it was like to live as a civilian during war times in that city. While helping your group of civilians stay alive in the war torn city, you experience a whirlwind of emotions from sadness to fear and even depression at times. However, this game is only one of many that have been developed recently that are intended to serve as a way to communicate a person’s experience.

My first encounter with this type of game was Papers, Please. In this game, the player takes on the role of an immigration officer at a border crossing in a country that is reminiscent of the Soviet Union. As the officer, you are charged with completing fairly mundane tasks on a daily basis, such as checking people’s immigration documents, inspecting identification photos for fraud, and frisking people for contraband. However, your performance on these tedious tasks is directly related to the officer’s salary, which has consequences (food, heating, medication, etc.) for the health of the officer’s family. In addition, you are regularly charged with making decisions that question your morality. For example, do you let a person’s spouse into the country, even though they don’t have the correct paperwork and risk the loss of salary, or do you reject their spouse and send them back to their home country by themselves?

These are just a few examples of why video games could be used more often as an engaging, experiential humanities tool used to share stories across cultures. These games are capable of delivering a rich digital world that mimics the experiences of people around the world who we may never meet, allowing us a chance to perceive the world as they do and help us better understand our fellow humans.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Blues Vision Workshop for Educators

”An enlightening, transformative, and safe space to learn and grow as an educator. Crucial learning for anyone who teaches in Minnesota and beyond.” - Allison Merrill, Educator

Join other educators for a very unique professional development opportunity: Blues Vision in the Classroom,to be held at the Minnesota Humanities Center on July 25 and 26, 2017. This workshop uses Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota as the starting point for rigorous discussion and activities that will help participants create practical strategies for using texts from the book as catalysts for conversation and potential change in the classroom. This opportunity prepares participating educators for meaningful engagement with their students by encouraging a deeper understanding of African American experiences and the black literary tradition in Minnesota.

If you join us at this two-day workshop you will will receive supplementary resources, strengthened relationships with colleagues and authors, clock hours, meals, and a copy of Blues Vision as part of this experience. Space is limited so register soon!

For more information about this opportunity, visit

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Janice Gilmore - From Student to Educator to Collaborator: Creating Change

Janice Gilmore is a columnist, educator, popular motivational and inspirational speaker, and author. She took early retirement after a 31-year career in the Omaha Public School District (OPS) as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. Janice writes a column for the Omaha World Herald newspaper and Revive, an African-American lifestyle and community empowerment magazine. She is also a consultant for Innocent Classroom, a part of the OPS - Minnesota Humanities Center professional development partnership.

I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska in the 50s. My experiences as a little black girl during that time were many — not all of them good. And, unfortunately, many of the unpleasant experiences I had during that time were based on race.

I remember when I was in second grade the white teacher in a classroom with mostly white students and a few black ones read the book Little Black Sambo. The book’s illustrations showed exaggerated features of Sambo including huge red lips, big white eyes, and skin the color of coal — an offensive portrayal of any person of color. After the teacher read a page, she would turn the book around for all the children to see the picture. The white kids would snicker and point at us; the black kids would feel ashamed. The teacher seemed not to have a clue on the impact it would have on us black kids. And of course, there were no black teachers around, as black teachers were few and far between during that time.

When I became a teacher, and ultimately a principal, I wanted to guarantee that all children were treated fairly. I still carried some hurts from childhood, so I was especially sensitive about ensuring that these little children were not subject to some of the experiences that I had.

Then about five years ago, after I had been enjoying my early retirement from OPS, I became affiliated with the Humanities Center. I was so impressed with their professional development program that I was eager to become a part of it if possible. The passion that Humanities Center leaders Dr. David O’ Fallon, President and CEO, and Dr. Eleanor Coleman, Education Strategy Consultant, have exhibited concerning this program is contagious. And being a part of this organization has been exciting to me.

Not only am I a consultant for Innocent Classroom, but Increase Student Engagement Through Absent Narrative workshops, School Action Team, Story Circles, and Reconstructive Curriculum, are other workshop offerings that I have been able to see or participate in over the years. There are other programs that are touted by educators that I have not personally witnessed, but my understanding is that they are superbly designed to help teachers better educate students.

If my teachers had access to professional development of the magnitude that the Humanities Center provides, I would venture to say that no little child would have had to sit through the humiliation of Little Black Sambo as my friends and I did.  And that would be a good thing!              

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Randy Ellingboe - Our World, Our Water

Randy Ellingboe has been manager of the Section of Drinking Water Protection at the Minnesota Department of Health since 2008, working with the people who operate public water supply systems to ensure that Minnesota's public drinking water meets all federal health standards. Randy has also worked for a number of other state agencies on water quality issues and in agronomy on hayland and pastureland research projects. He is currently the president of the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators and his agency was a state partner with the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Water/Ways exhibit and is a current partner in the We Are Water MN planning process..

Drinking water has been in national and local news a lot recently. Stories about lead, chemical spills, harmful algal blooms in lakes and rivers, and impacts from agriculture and industry on drinking water have captured our attention.

These news stories are alarming; contaminated waters pose threats to our health and the health of our environment, and safe drinking water is the foundation of community and business prosperity. At the same time, unless we are directly affected by one of those stories, we often take safe, plentiful drinking water for granted. It can be hard to know what we can do as private citizens to protect the drinking water that comes from our groundwater, lakes, rivers, and streams.

While valuable, statistics, facts, and theories are hard to grasp unless they are part of a larger context — part of a story. Often, it isn’t science that changes our views. Instead, change comes from the stories that touch our hearts and inspire emotion. Stories can help us connect the things we do every day in our jobs, homes, and activities to what we learn from science about our health and environment.

This year, Minnesotans had an exciting chance to share stories about water across the state as part of the Water/Ways exhibit. The exhibit, sponsored by the Minnesota Humanities Center in cooperation with the Smithsonian and many state and local partners, travelled to six communities across Minnesota. It was a chance for these communities to come together around the stories of their water(s), to share what their water(s) mean to them and how they protect them, and to think and talk about what we all must do to protect them into the future. It was a new way for state and local government agencies with interests in water, like us at the Minnesota Department of Health, to connect with citizens and communities.

The Water/Ways exhibit blended stories from Minnesotans about how they value water and what water means to them with stories from agencies that monitor our waters and work with the people who manage our lands, businesses, and utilities. The exchange of these stories about water is crucial to help us connect as private citizens, businesses, government, landowners, and utility managers. We all play critical roles in protecting the health of our water — and by doing so — ourselves. We can learn from each other’s stories, to help us better understand our world and our water.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Meryll Levine Page - Memorial Day 2017: Why Remember?

Meryll Levine Page served on the board of Minnesota Humanities Center from 2004-2012. Following her tenure on the board, she served as a consultant, drawing on her thirty-nine years of teaching experience. Meryll also blogs at: Together with her sister, Leslie Levine Adler, Meryll is the author of the nonfiction work, Jewish Luck: A True Story of Friendship, Deception and Risky Business.

I am conflicted about war. To me some wars seem justified; others do not. I am not conflicted, however, about war memorials. Whenever I travel, I’m drawn to war memorials. Some are monumental like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC and others are modest like the simple obelisks with inscribed names found in small villages throughout Canada and Europe.

I’ve heard the claim that by building monuments and setting aside a day each May to memorialize our war dead we celebrate war. I don’t agree. War memorials make us confront a very uncomfortable reality—that the cost of war is very high, not only for those who died and suffered, but also for their families.

Phil Ochs’s lyrics always play through my head when I stand before a war memorial. He wrote:
“It's always the old to lead us to the war
It's always the young to fall
Now look at all we've won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all.”
Ochs’s question hangs in the air whenever conflict is possible—is a war and the death of soldiers and civilians worth it? That’s a question worth pondering before we enter another war. To negotiate the future, we need to reflect upon the past.

Walking the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol, you’ll encounter a collection of war memorials that bear witness to the sacrifices made by U.S. soldiers and their families. Some of the memorials may upset you, but they will also impel you to reflect. “I do not need to be told to remember,” writes Veteran Brian Humphreys. Many of us, however, do need to be told to remember.

The Minnesota Humanities Center has been helping all of us remember through its many programs focused on Veterans. Veterans’ Voices brings together Veterans in dialogue with each other and with literature through shared inquiry. I was privileged to write curricula focused on the memorials at the Minnesota State Capitol Mall, which are available to all at no cost via the Humanities Center’s website.

The humanities enable all of us to engage with the meaningful questions of our lives—why we remember the past, why we go to war, how we, as a society, treat our Veterans. Through civil discourse and a shared examination of literature, history, and the arts, together, we can tackle fundamental questions and begin to understand each other.

This Memorial Day, I encourage you to listen to Veterans’ voices. Take the time to visit a war memorial, drive along Victory Memorial Parkway, listen to the strain of ”Taps,” visit a museum, read a poem or book, or watch a film. Pausing to remember by engaging with arts, literature, and history can help us to build a more thoughtful future.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Jennifer Tonko - Building Water Relationships through Stories

Jennifer Tonko is the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Program Officer for Community Engagement and Traveling Exhibits

Over the last two years, the Humanities Center has been exploring the connection between the humanities and water through a partnership called We Are Water MN. The first phase of this partnership, where we shared the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street exhibit, Water/Ways, with six greater Minnesota communities is now over. We did some tremendous things. We worked as a group of five statewide agencies to build a complementary exhibit, We Are Water MN, that tells Minnesota’s water stories collaboratively through personal narratives, historical materials, and scientific information, and more than 7,000 people came to see it. We helped host sites build and strengthen relationships with 125 organizations in and around their communities. We presented about the partnership to about 500 people.

Last October my colleague, Britt Gangeness (from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency), and I were invited to speak at a meeting of the Basin Alliance for the Lower Mississippi in Minnesota (BALMM) to make one of these presentations. Whenever we present we strive to do a few things: remind our audience that we’re in an indigenous place, give the participants a chance to reflect on and share their own relationships with water, and to help them experience the We Are Water MN partnership by actually doing our work with them—instead of just talking at them. We do this primarily through story.

This BALMM meeting was a pivot point for me, because it’s where I learned to tell my own water stories. When we do these presentations, we always share some of the wonderful stories that our professional interviewers have gathered. (You should look at them too; you can find them all at Some of my favorites are the stories of Jim Rock, Emily Buermann, Sally Hausken, and Becky and Don Waskosky—but there are lots of good ones!) Then we ask people to reflect on what they heard and tell some of their water stories. Because I’m usually the one asking the questions, I don’t often share my own stories. But this time was different. I shared the story of when my dad and I got his truck stuck in deep mud at Dunbar Slough in Iowa when I was visiting home during one of my college summers.

It was one of those August days where even breathing makes you sticky, and we were four miles from home, three miles from my grandparents’ house. We walked and walked through the cotton batting air hoping that someone might drive by (which they never did). Then we came to the artesian well in the ditch that he and his brothers knew about from their childhood explorations on this same road. We climbed through the prickly grass and drank the cold, clear water—and it was the best water I’ve ever had! Sharing this story reminded me of my own relationships with water: visiting one of my special places from childhood, a love-hate relationship with humid Iowa summers, the refreshment and life that is the water we drink. This kind of exercise in reminding and reflecting is exactly how the humanities help shape the conversations that are happening about water right now. Sharing this story also built my relationship with the people from BALMM in the room—they learned a little bit about why I love the work that I do and saw the world from my perspective as they listened to me.

Even though the partnership is called We Are Water MN it could just as easily have been called We Are Story—hat tip to Mona Smith with Allies: media/art for making this connection for me. It has been my great honor to hear many Minnesotans’ water stories and to step into their hearts for those moments. I carry those stories with me now and they affect the choices I make every day. People here have a deep relationship to this place and to the water that shapes it and sustains us. I’m looking forward to learning more from people in additional communities throughout Minnesota. Looking ahead to phase two, we are hoping to engage a new group of eight host communities, where we can continue to learn from and amplify Minnesotans’ personal experiences with water in this place that we call home. If you think your community would be a good fit for this community-building exhibit, please let me know by reaching out to me:

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Jason T. Garcia - The Humanities: Our Ideas, Values, and Beliefs

Jason Garcia is the Program Officer for the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Veterans’ Voices program. As a 21-year Army Veteran and retiree, Jason is committed to serving our nation. His status as a combat Veteran, with first-hand understanding of the challenges and opportunities of transitioning from military life, makes him a welcome addition to the Humanities Center’s team and well-positioned to lead the Humanities Center’s Veterans’ Voices program.

For 21 years, I traveled the world as a soldier. Along my journey, I was exposed to countless conflicts of ideas, values, and beliefs. I witnessed the terrible destructive capacity of humans when diplomacy failed, and dwelt in locations of unimaginable dark desolation. When I reflect on my journey, I ponder the eternal question—Why? Why did I willingly place myself in harm’s way? Why did I voluntarily endure such hardships? Why did I expose my mind, body, and spirit to such hostilities? On an individual level, I relate to the humanities as a way of exploring those very personal and deeply emotional questions. As a member of the human collective, I think the humanities have the potential to allow us to transcend those conflicts in ideas, values, and beliefs.

The humanities allow us to experience different ideas, influence us to evaluate our values, and inspire us to challenge our own beliefs. They help us to understand one another by facilitating open-mindedness and illuminating culture, and empower us to share our individual experiences so that we may discover our commonalities. Artists like the renowned painter Francisco de Goya put pigment to canvas to expose man’s inhumanity, and the writings of spiritual leaders such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama provide insight into timeless cultural traditions of compassion. They have used the humanities to illustrate the full spectrum of our human potential. Throughout human history, the humanities have opened our minds and eyes to the world around us and have taught us to be teachable. The humanities relate to the issues of our current times by providing us with a means to explore the enduring question of what it means to be human.

“The arts and humanities are vastly more important in troubled times.” - Jim Leach

The Global War on Terrorism has been waging for over 15 years and has resulted in civil unrest and misunderstanding within our society. Today we are more disconnected from one another than ever before. As one soldier among a U.S. contingent of over 2 million troops, I often feel that disconnect and experience a deep longing to be understood. For I am a soldier, but I am a person too. I long to discover the differences and commonality among my civilian contemporaries. How does a civilian citizen experience our fight against terrorism and how do they see me? I yearn for an opportunity to express my story and I hope that the experiences of my comrades are not left unheard. I find faith in the humanities; for they are a means of expression to share how we individually experience the issues of our times. They are a podium from which to freely share our personal experiences and give us each a voice to whisper wind-gently or roar lion-loudly. Ultimately though, the humanities allow us to better understand each other’s ideas, values, and beliefs and “focus on what unites us, not divides us”.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Two Weeks Left to Nominate an Outstanding Veteran: 2017 Veterans’ Voices Award Nominations Close May 19!

Do you know an exceptional Minnesota Veteran? If so, you should consider nominating him or her for the Minnesota Humanities Center’s 2017 Veterans’ Voices Award.

"Like many of my peers, I work tirelessly to improve our community through a continued commitment to serve,” said Paul Riedner, a 2016 Veterans’ Voices awardee. “The Veterans' Voices Award amplifies our efforts and provides a much needed platform for the incredible gifts that those who serve have to offer us all."

Now in its fifth year, the Veterans' Voices Award recognizes, amplifies, and honors Minnesotans who have honorably served in the military and are now thriving and making significant contributions to their respective 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.

“My selection as a Veteran Voices Award winner was an incredible personal honor, but more importantly, it expanded awareness of the two non-profits that I work with: Women Veterans Initiative and Healing of Memories,” said Sheila Laughton, a 2016 Veterans’ Voices awardee. “It is a huge step toward changing the stereotype of the morally injured Veteran.”

To nominate a Veteran for this award, fill out the online nomination form, and submit the completed form along with a two-page (maximum) narrative of why you are nominating this individual for an award.

Completed nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, May 19, 2017. Nominees selected to receive an award will be notified by July 8, 2017. All awardees must be able to attend the September 11, 2017, dinner and award ceremony that will be held at the University of St. Thomas 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 2017 Veterans' Voices Award.

Nominate today! For more information visit:

Some of the Veterans’ Voices Awardees from past years have been featured bloggers for the Humanities Center. Following is a selection of blog posts shared by Veterans’ Voices Awardees:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

David O'Fallon - You don't need the humanities

David O’Fallon, PhD, is the President and CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center.

You don't need the humanities
really—I’m not kidding—you don't,

if everything is settled,
if every problem is a technical problem, one that can be
best resolved with facts, with data.
(Big or little  or in between)

You don't need the humanities
if the fundamental questions
of what is the good life,
what form of community is best,
how we relate to each other,
what gives meaning to my life,
to our life, are answered forever.

You don't need the humanities
if there is nothing to learn,
from thousands of years of wisdom
from women and men all over the earth,
nothing of consequence, really,
nothing that can matter to your daily life or your week
or year, nothing that can be gained
asking these questions and gathering
answers and insights,

if their learning and questioning and works mean nothing
then we surely don't need to bother with the humanities.

You don't need the humanities
if you need no guide to a complex
question, such as,
how ought we use the resources of this earth?
Who does water belong to, all of else, anyone ?
What is the balance between private right and public responsibility?
Between private gain and common good?
What is the  essence of being human, is it changed by
gene manipulation, cloning, AI, and ...
forces we've not yet imagined,

but if this is all settled forever, all clear –
we don't need the humanities.

If we know what we ask of the men and women we send to war,
If we understand them, the full price of war, and how to honor
And support and work towards a mission beyond war
—if we know and practice this—we don’t need the humanities.

You don't need the humanities
if you are confident and competent in every culture
And faith, or no faith
–at ease with Mormons and Muslims and Dakota and
Tagalog and Branch Davidians and Nones and
Pagans and–add your own–then we don't
need the humanities for there is no understanding to be gained,
no empathy to be developed.

All is well.
If all is well. If we are done. Fixed. Set.

If life is just a few technical problems to be worked out,
which we surely can resolve.

If history is finished.

We don't need the humanities. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bruce Richardson - Vietnam War Perspectives: From the Battlefields to Shakespeare’s Warrior King

Bruce Richardson is the project leader for the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Vietnam Veterans’ Voices project. He is a director of the St. Louis Park School Board, works with the Military Action Group in the Legislature, and is Chair of the West Point Student Leadership Seminar. He lives in St. Louis Park with his wife Audrey, and they have a brand new granddaughter.

In February 1969 I arrived in CuChi, Vietnam. It’s hard to believe that was almost half a century ago, but I was just a young soldier who happened to be one of the most highly trained warriors in the world. I was a U.S. Army Airborne, Ranger, artillery officer—and I thought I was tough. I was, however, also the closest thing West Point had to an English major at the time, and I loved Shakespeare.

One of my favorite plays was the history play, Henry V, written by William Shakespeare in 1599. After King Henry’s cousin complains that their men are outnumbered by the French (in 1415 they were—three or four to one.) Shakespeare’s Henry gives a rousing speech before the Battle of Agincourt. He explains why he fights: “If we are mark'd to die, we are enow. To do our country loss; and if to live, The fewer men, the greater share of honour. God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.”

Is it honorable to go to war? King Henry thought so, “But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive.” As cadets at West Point we discussed honor often. It is the centerpiece of the Military Academy’s motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.” Before I went to Vietnam, duty, honor, and country were all part of what I thought we fought for, but within a few seconds of our first contact with North Vietnamese soldiers, I quickly realized that we were fighting for each other. We fought for the guys in the squad, the platoon, and the company.

This change from fighting for our country to fighting for each other is not limited to men in combat. Army nurse Anne Simon Auger found herself building figurative walls to protect herself from the trauma of the war wounds of the troops she treated. As she told Keith Walker in her oral history, included in his book, A Piece of My Heart, “I got to realizing how vulnerable everybody was. And how vulnerable I was....every patient on that ward, when they left, took a piece of me with them.” I read her story when I was being trained for the “Echoes of War” project developed by the Minnesota Humanities Center, and I was amazed how an Army nurse could feel the same stress and pain and build the same walls as I had. When a North Vietnamese soldier attacked her, she realized that she was vulnerable to hate.

This feeling woke me up. I realized that I was not as tough as I thought I was. When one of my friends was killed in Vietnam, that hate became a reality for me. When I went to war, I was fighting for my country. Once I got there, I was fighting to protect my brothers. When my friend was killed, I started fighting for revenge. That motive is not healthy for any of us.

Shakespeare had King Henry continue to build on his soldiers’ relationships, “From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother….” Anne Auger’s story taught me that we are not just brothers—we are brothers and sisters. And trauma does not just impact combat Veterans—it hits us all, including our families.

The Humanities Center is doing its part to connect our communities, families, Veterans, and others through the humanities. We can all learn that war is not glorious. As Auger said, “I know I can’t forget those experiences, but I understand why I have them, and that they’re part of my life. I also know that I’m a better person, actually, for having lived them.”

Shakespeare said it too, “Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin's day.’ Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, But he'll remember, with advantages, What feats he did that day… And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here.”

In February 1970, 364 days after I arrived, I left Vietnam a very different person. Today the hate and arrogance are gone, and I will do everything in my power to never let this happen again. And I am committed to help our brothers and sisters make the transition from warrior to civilian without the trauma we had to endure and many still do.

Learn more about the Humanities Center’s Echoes of War project and apply to become a Discussion Leader.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

April is National Poetry Month - Blues Vision

Artwork by Ta-couma T.Aiken, “Speak”
Blues Vision
African American Writing from Minnesota 

Edited by Alexs Pate With co-editors Pamela R. Fletcher and J. Otis Powell

Blues Vision is a groundbreaking collection of incisive prose and powerful poetry by forty-three black writers from Minnesota who educate, inspire, and reveal the unabashed truth.

In celebration of April as National Poetry Month two poems from Blues Vision are featured this week. This anthology was co-published with the Minnesota Historical Society Press, which was made possible in part by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2004.

The Humanities Center offers educators a professional development opportuntiy focused around Using Blues Vision in the Classroom July 25-36, 2017 at the Humanities Center.

Apology for Apostasy?
by Etheridge Knight
Soft songs, like birds, die in poison air
So my song cannot now be candy.
Anger rots the oak and elm; roses are rare,
Seldom seen through blind despair.

And my murmur cannot be heard
Above the din and damn. The night is full
Of buggers and bastards; no moon or stars
Light the sky. And my candy is deferred.

Till peacetime, when my voice shall be light,
Like down, lilting in the air; then shall I
Sing of beaches, white in the magic sun,
And of moons and maidens at midnight.

by J. Otis Powell
There is no clean slate
No blank sheets of paper
To write our lives on
We palimpsestically erase
And rewrite existence like
Painters whitewashing
And rescaping canvas
With images telling new stories
Often by another painter
In some other time
With alterative visions
No story is complete
Life goes on in ways
That tells the same story differently
From other sides of truths
Celebrated narratives previously promulgated
Shading views ancestors left
Our stories don’t disappear under
Cover of news but hover like
Ghosts beneath dominant voices
Parchment establishes new anniversaries
With every twist of tongue
Every keyed in message 
Penned privet document
Of lives lived on a record 
Each year unrolls another scroll
Retelling stories to recover
From the pseudology of war
Every lesson confirms that fighting
Is the absolute right thing to do
In my rear view mirror I see
People with bad ideas
About what the world is made of
They will need to learn for themselves
I will need to fight where I can win
I never thought when
I was an undergraduate
Studying philosophy that aesthetics
Would become an over used word
But every time I turn an ear
In the direction of pop culture
Some artist is talking about life
Values and style
Flipping the script to post modernism
Uncomfortably confronting antiquated myths
Deconstructing master stories with
Post-traumatic truth 
Everyday is muffled
In acoustics
Of diamond sprinkled snow
Reflecting how hard
It is to be relevant 
We thought we knew
What we could not have known
And it made fools of us
Made us overreach and prevaricate
Had we known better we would have done more
But retrospect is false 
And the clock is relentless
Secretly I like the story so I’m perpetually
Telling it draft after draft in sequels

Available for purchase at the Minnesota Historical Society Online Store and

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Water/Ways Detroit Lakes: Things to See and Do

Original blog post by Pam McCurdy, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Friday, March 10, 2017. [Read the original blog post]

The Detroit Lakes area – about four hours northwest of the Twin Cities - offers a fantastic weekend getaway. Here are a few of the things you can see and do.



In Minnesota, water is a part of our identity, our culture, and our history. Water/Ways, a new and exciting exhibition and community engagement initiative from the Smithsonian Institution’s ‘Museum on Main Street’ (MoMS) program in partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center, will be on display at the Becker County Historical Society February 25 thru April 9, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the six-week run. Admission is free.

What to see and do

Visit Itasca State Park
Established in 1891, Itasca is Minnesota's oldest state park. Today, the park totals more than 32,000 acres and includes more than 100 lakes. Walk across the mighty Mississippi as it starts its winding journey 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Cross country ski, snowshoe, or hike to explore the park’s beautiful winter scenery. (Note only the East and North entrances are open during the winter.)

Bird Lover
The Northwest section of Minnesota is unique collection of habitats that provide homes for a tremendous variety of birds. Pine forests, deciduous woodlands, native tallgrass prairie, aspen parkland, sand dunes (remnants of Glacial Lake Agassiz), calcareous fens, bogs, marshes, large and small lakes, and rivers make up the transition zone that offers over 275 species of birds.

Lake Country Scenic Byway
Natural and cultural history has left a legacy in Lake Country. Visitors traveling the byway can visit local landmarks and learn the area’s unique stories. The route includes a 67-mile stretch of Highway 34 from Detroit Lakes, through Park Rapids to Walker, with a 21-mile spur extending from Park Rapids to Itasca State Park along US Highway 71.

There are over 400 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in Becker County. To download maps:

Local Brewery
Detroit Lakes has a locally owned microbrewery. Stop by to eat and drink local!

Downhill Ski, Tube, Snowboard, Cross Country Ski and Fat Tire Biking
This 200-acre Minnesota recreation destination features alpine skiing, snowboarding, tubing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat bike rentals during the winter. Detroit Mountain is located about four miles from the city limits. Find the entrance to Detroit Mountain on the south side of Detroit Mountain Road, which is along 8th Street SE or Otto Zeck Road (from Hwy 34).

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Nick Swaggert - Separating Veterans’ Work and Politics: The Minefield of Social Media

Nick Swaggert is a Veteran of the Marine Corps who served since 1999 as an infantryman and was deployed twice to Iraq. He is Vice President of Business Operations for Better Futures Minnesota, a non-profit dedicated to employment of men with a history of incarceration, homelessness, poverty, and other challenges to help them achieve self-sufficiency and a better future. Nick is a Pat Tillman Military Scholar and currently serves as a company commander in the Marine Corps Reserve. He is also a 2015 Veterans’ Voices Awardee.

I recently interviewed a candidate for a role at my organization. Following the interview, I reviewed their LinkedIn profile to better understand their professional background. Unfortunately, it was laced with numerous controversial comments about both political and social topics. This type of personal posting on a professional social media site gave me pause as I considered hiring them. The conflict occurs when personal opinions and professional experience co-mingle.

The organization I work for is non-partisan by nature. A visitor to our organization suggested that we post some politically-charged signage that aligned with some of our values. The challenge was that it did not align with ALL of our values and certainly ostracized a group of our stakeholders. My boss quickly dismissed the idea as he has a deep understanding of risk in mixing business and politics.

As a reserve military officer, I am constantly reminded of the need to separate work and politics. Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 itemizes what a service member can and cannot do, and specifically forbids a uniformed military member from publicly endorsing a political party or candidate. The challenge is that when you associate with a controversial topic in a public space—television, social media, or at a public rally—the perception can be that you are a spokesperson for your professional organization. Cyberspace is not a private forum to share your opinions and thoughts with no consequences. It is a space open to the public, even in so-called “private” rooms. This is especially true in the modern world of blog posts, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

I believe engaging in a thoughtful, literate discussion means that we respect others’ opinions, ideas, and challenges. We must be mindful of the perception that personal posts can be interpreted as representing our professional careers. Consequences exist in public spaces; cyberspace is a public space.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

2017 Educator Institute: Transforming Education Through Absent Narratives

Educator team from Stillwater Area Public Schools
participates in the 2016 Educator Institute
“The Educator Institute remains the single most powerful training I have participated in and has opened the path to ongoing changes in dialogue both in the classroom and with community members,” proclaimed one educator who participated in the Minnesota Humanities Center’s 2016 Educator Institute.

The Humanities Center is thrilled to once again host our week-long Educator Institute at our St. Paul facility beginning on Sunday, June 25 and running through Friday, June 30. This experience immerses participants in the Humanities Center's educational approach of increasing student engagement by focusing on absent narratives—those voices often left out or marginalized. The Institute helps develop student-teacher connections, presents practical classroom strategies, and provides valuable resources, all while building a network of Minnesota educators committed to relationship-based educational change.

Our Educator Institute provides:
  • Rigorous, relevant K-12 professional development
  • Access to educators and community scholars
  • A field trip examining Dakota narratives in Minnesota
  • Classroom materials and resources
  • Year-round activities and support
  • Certificate for 45+ clock hours
  • All meals, plus lodging for those outside the Twin Cities metro area
We anticipate that graduate credit will be available at an additional cost through Metropolitan State University School of Urban Education.


The Humanities Center is pleased to offer the Educator Institute at a dramatically discounted rate of $300 per person. Funding for this $3,100 experience is made possible with generous support from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and other private sources.

Ready to participate?

This professional development opportunity will fill quickly, so we encourage you to form a team and apply as soon as possible.
Application Deadline: March 31
Notification of acceptance: April 19
$300 registration fee due upon acceptance.

For additional information and to apply, visit

Thursday, March 16, 2017

David O'Fallon - Response to Proposed Elimination of Funding for National Endowment for the Humanities

You’ve probably heard today’s news that the President Trump’s proposed budget eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for fiscal year 2018, which begins on October 1 this year.

This is the budget we expected from the Trump administration. 
However this is the message that resonated from my visits to the Minnesota Congressional delegation in Washington last week. The President proposes; the Congress disposes. 

There is a long way to go in the budget making process.

Humanities council members from more than 40 states met in Washington, DC last week for Humanities on the Hill. The team from the Humanities Center visited every office  of our state’s Congressional delegation. What we heard from red states, purple states, and blue states is strong Congressional support for the state humanities councils. Some members of Congress even said “no way will NEH and NEA be eliminated—no way.”

It is reasonable to think that some appropriation to NEH will survive—especially something that directs funds to the states for their use. The NEH funds that come to the Humanities Center come without strings—except they must be used within the broad mission of bringing the humanities into our public life. We get to decide where to direct it—to Veterans or to education, to the crisis of water or to connections among our multiple cultures, to civic education or wherever Minnesotans think best.

Are we concerned? Certainly, and we have broad support across our state—as do many other state councils.

The Minnesota Humanities Center will continue to deliver strong programs that meet real needs of people all over Minnesota. Today we ask our partners and supporters to deliver the message of the importance and impact of our work with your Member of Congress. Your support of the Humanities Center is critical now. Thank you for supporting the work of the Minnesota Humanities Center.

David O'Fallon
President, Minnesota Humanities Center

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Recognizing Outstanding Minnesota Veterans

2017 Veterans' Voices On the Rise Awardee Linda Knox
and her family at 9/11 Award Ceremony

2017 Veterans’ Voices Award Nominations Now Open
Do you know an exceptional Minnesota Veteran? If so, you should consider nominating him or her for the Minnesota Humanities Center’s 2017 Veterans’ Voices Award.

Now in its fourth year, the Veterans' Voices Award recognizes, amplifies, and honors Minnesotans who have honorably served in the military and are now making significant contributions to their respective 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, fill out the online nomination form.

If you are interested in nominating a Veteran but are not quite sure of the process, the Humanities Center is here to help. Three information sessions will be held for interested nominators to answer questions and share tips on applying:
  • St. Paul In-person Information Sessions at the Humanities Center:
    10:00 -11:00 am and 5:30-6:30pm Thursday, April 20th
  • Little Falls In-person Information Session at Camp Ripley: Weekend of April 28-30, 2017
Completed nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, May 19, 2017. Nominees selected to receive an award will be notified by July 8, 2016. All awardees must be able to attend the September 11, 2017, dinner and award ceremony to be held at the University of St. Thomas 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 2017 Veterans' Voices Award.
Consider nominating an extraordinary Veteran in your life! For more information visit:

Some of the  Veterans’ Voices Awardees from past years have been featured bloggers for the Humanities Center. Following is a selection of blog posts shared by Veterans’ Voices Awardees:

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Jim Roe - The Places We Learn

Jim Roe is a consulting planner, helping organizations develop places and venues where people can enjoy a kind of learning that’s guided by their own interests, backgrounds, and motivations. He works nationally with a range of organizations—from historic sites and museums to parks, nature centers and other environmental-education facilities, science centers, and children’s museums.

On a cold day in November I took part in a Bdote Field Trip sponsored by the Minnesota Humanities Center. The tour was led by Dakota educators and included stops at various Minneapolis-St. Paul sites of importance to Dakota people, including Mounds Park, Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, Historic Fort Snelling, Fort Snelling State Park, and Pilot Knob—all places I had been to many times before and thought I knew.

One of our guides, Mona Smith, asked us to consider learning from these places, not just about them. I get this. From the warmth of our own homes we could acquire a bounty of information about these places. Learning from them would take a different kind of relationship. The question remained, how do we learn from a place?

I’m used to learning from places that are designed to teach, such as museums and typical historic sites. But when a place is largely unbuilt and uninterpreted, what are the elements I’m supposed to learn from? In the weeks since that tour, I’ve been thinking about other ways to know a place—to learn it in a way that I can learn from it. I’m thinking now that it’s more like getting to know a person, which takes time.

A name is always good place to start. ‘Bdote’ is the Dakota name for the area around the confluence of two great rivers—described better in the sweeping gesture of our guide than by a pin stuck on a map. Mni Sota Makoce, Wakan Tipi, and Oheyawahi are some of the other names I learned that day.

When getting to know someone, I always like to hear their story. Where do they come from and what have they been through in life? Who knows, maybe we know someone in common. Every place we visited that day had a story, in fact many stories that helped me get to know them in ways I couldn’t have before.

In getting to know someone, I also like to hear about their families – brothers, sisters, parents, and others who have loved and cared about them. If I ask, they usually also share some memories of their childhood. During the Bdote experience, I learned that many people care about these places and that each of them hold memories, some from very long ago. People remember, but the land remembers too—and for much longer.

It takes many conversations over many years to genuinely get to know someone. And it takes shared experiences, which we value and remember together over time. I may never learn all there is to know about a place, but I think I can figure out what it has to teach me—given time.

I do know I’m just beginning to figure out what these places have to teach. For that I am grateful to our Bdote tour guides: Ramona Kitto Stately, Ethan Neerdaels, and Mona Smith. And to the land itself.

To learn more about the Bdote Field Trip and upcoming trip offerings visit

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Dr. Bradley Sidle - Veterans' Voices Found

Dr. Bradley Sidle teaches 7th Grade U. S. Studies at Folwell School (Performing Arts Magnet) in Minneapolis, MN. The student body at Folwell is urban, diverse, and committed to learning in and through the arts.


Stop talking.

I'm not interested.

Talk to the hand.

And so it is, when our voices are silenced, our stories cut short, our contribution squashed.

The Minnesota Humanities Center offers a course, the Veterans’ Voices Workshop for Educators, which I was honored and pleased to take, on giving place to a too often neglected voice—namely, the voice of the Veteran. We in the social studies discipline study wars and war plans; we count the number of fatalities and clearly communicate the final outcomes of the battles waged on the field. But the voices of the Veterans we too often overlook.

Our class was held at Camp Ripley in central Minnesota. I have driven past this area many times, and had no idea of the vast resource for military training here in my backyard. I checked in at the gate with the slightest twinge of fear and trepidation. I certainly did not know quite what to expect. My first real inclination that I was in a different world was when we came out of our first plenary and went to the dining hall. Everywhere were uniforms and insignia that I did not understand and could not interpret. The Veterans in our group were quite familiar, and told me that though I felt like a thousand eyes were on these non-uniformed civilians, I was underestimating the truth! Many eyes were on us, but it turned out the vast majority were friendly eyes. Many conversations took place with women and men on active or reserve duty, and the narratives that had long been absent were already being spoken in a sense of honesty and frankness that I greatly appreciated.

We toured the facilities of Camp Ripley, and the Veterans in our midst were quite entertaining as they told of their own experiences at camp and in service. I rather expected a monolithic sharing of the same old, same old. I think my first major learning was that there is not one Veteran's voice, but a wide variety of Veterans' voices. I certainly knew that multiple sources and multiple attestations of a narrative give that narrative verifiability, but I also learned with new confidence that no voice accounts for all voices. Hearing the highly individualized and significant narratives of a wide variety of Veterans brought a vitality and personal representation to the truth.

The plenaries themselves were filled with extraordinary bursts of insight. I will never forget the passion in the story of an officer speaking about the Minnesota First in the battle of Gettysburg. I wanted to thank him for what felt like his personal presence at the battle! We were all visibly moved. The resources I received from the experience were also tremendously valuable and immediately applicable when teaching about the behind-the-scenes experiences of war. The extraordinary resource, Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian by Donald H. Whitfield, ed., contained short readings I could use to examine a wide range of reporting on the Veterans' experience. Each reading contains a brief introduction and discussion questions that provided ample material for use in my seventh grade classroom. Interestingly, the History Theater in St. Paul recently staged a show, "The Things They Carried," which is represented in this anthology with a nice excerpt.

I left the professional development with a profoundly greater appreciation for the sacrifices and accomplishments of all who engaged in military service. On a more personal note, it also gave me the opportunity to talk to my 100-year-old father about his service in World War II and hear his response to the lectures I heard and the articles I had read. This was a tremendous workshop offered by the Humanities Center, and I encourage anyone who is able to take part in the Veterans’ Voices Workshop for Educators. I am confident in stating that no one will leave without their professional and personal sensitivities engaged and enlarged.

The Humanities Center is offering the Veterans’ Voices Workshop for Educators at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, April 28-30, 2017. To learn more visit:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Derek Wilson - Combatting Exclusion with Humility

Derek Wilson is a husband and father of two children. He has been teaching Social Studies for 15 years at Roseville Area High School, where he currently serves as curriculum leader. Derek participated in the 2016 Minnesota Humanities Center’s Educator Institute.

I am trying to replace ‘exclusion’ with ‘embrace.’†

Patterns of exclusion stain hearts and minds, and blind institutions. Without check, the cognitive reflex that files and sorts—creating implicit bias—has become a weapon of power, pushing people to the margins. This reflex builds patterns of thought, ways of being, and entire systems that privilege some over others.

Since the Enlightenment era, we have increasingly relied on data, analysis, and strategies to solve social problems. A growing body of science suggests that exclusion within our institutions cannot be fixed without first acknowledging and addressing the biases that exist within us. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt used Daniel Kahneman’s (Thinking Fast and Slow) research to create a metaphor of a rider on an elephant to describe the automatic and controlled processes of the brain. While we like to believe the rider controls the elephant with logic and analysis, reality is often quite different. Habits, biases, and intuitions are quick automatic processes and are as difficult to direct and control as a six-ton elephant. We need more than effective strategies to combat exclusion.

Much of the solution, then, lies in noticing and shifting our unconscious processes. How do I stop habits, combat biases and challenge intuitions that create and perpetuate systemic exclusion?

My answer starts with affection, rather than indifference. Affection for others emerges from a conviction that what binds us is greater than what divides us. This binding agent transcends the fluidity of identity and is at the core of every human being; it is the divine spark we all share. It levels the playing field, and does not bow to moral or merit.

Pressing into this conviction leads me to listen and learn from the stories of others. Early in my adult life, I can recall listening in order to respond, repeatedly categorizing and analyzing others’ words. Truth be told, it still happens, but I am working on suspending this kind of judgment, and listening with humility and solidarity. I agree with Paul Tillich when he wrote, “In order to know what is just in a person-to-person encounter, love listens. It is its first task to listen."

Listening like this is dangerous, though. It exposes and threatens habits, intuitions, and biases. It creates uncertainty about those things of which we were once certain, and challenges our place as central arbiters of knowing and being. It also means holding cherished ideologies and metanarratives loosely. Finally, this act of humble listening will eventually require action.

These are the risks of embrace, but they are worth it to end exclusion.

Note: I first learned about the contrast of exclusion and embrace from theologian Miroslov Volf.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Max Rayneard - Home

Max Rayneard is the Senior Writer / Producer of The Telling Project. He has written and/or directed 27 Telling Project productions across the United States, including Telling: Minnesota, Telling: Minnesota 2015, and Telling: Minnesota 2016 in the Dowling Studio of the Guthrie Theatre. In 2017, he and Jonathan Wei will co-write and co-direct She Went to War (premiering March 17) in The Dowling Studio, as well as a Vietnam War-themed production in collaboration with Twin Cities Public Television. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Oregon and lives in Houston, Texas. The Humanities Center has partnered with The Telling Project on Telling: Minnesota.

I think about the meaning of home a lot. I am a foreigner in the United States, a transplanted South African who misses the complexities of my beautiful country. I also think about the meaning of home because I work for The Telling Project — a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that uses storytelling to bridge the gap between military veterans and the civilian communities in which they make their homes.

Coming home after military service is not easy. There’s an entire literary tradition, spanning back to the great nostos texts of the Ancient Greeks, dedicated to its complexity. Simply put, many veterans have a difficult time adjusting to civilian society because military service is an intense overload of experiences. It has a way of reprioritizing everything you think you know. For many veterans, returning to a civilian world that doesn’t get it and doesn’t seem overly interested in understanding, it doesn’t feel like a homecoming. It feels like loss. It feels like being a foreigner in your own country.

So, what does home mean? I’ve come to think of it as a fleeting thing – an alchemical moment that happens when hearts align. Striving for the next such moment and holding to the memory of the last holds the world together.

Allow me to explain: I grew up a privileged white kid in the waning years of Apartheid. The townships were on fire while Apartheid’s white beneficiaries lived mostly insulated lives. When Apartheid ended, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] was established. I came into my young adulthood, sheltered as I had been, watching national broadcasts in which the mostly black survivors of human rights violations told their stories.

The success of the TRC is hotly debated, and so I only speak for myself. I was opened up. I had to admit my own racism and complicity, my own ignorance. I hurt with the people that were hurt in my name. I reveled in their resilience. I was in awe of their generosity. They made themselves publicly vulnerable in the act of telling. The very least anyone could do was to listen. South Africa remains a broken country, and I remain accountable, but for those few moments; I felt like we were all home together.

When Jonathan Wei, the founder of The Telling Project invited me in 2007 to help develop the Telling Project process, I didn’t know that I was being invited to come home. The Telling Project asks veterans to tell their stories in interviews that are recorded, transcribed, and shaped into play scripts. We provide performance training and rehearsal. And then the veterans step onto stages and gift civilians with the opportunity to listen to stories of loss and triumph, of laughter and grief, of guilt and pride, of disappointment and patriotism.

When people make themselves vulnerable to each other by telling their stories and listening, they become home to each other, whether or not they served, no matter where they come from.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Rachel Schmitt - The Win-Win-Win Scenario

Rachel Schmitt is pursuing her Master’s in Evaluation Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is currently at the Minnesota Humanities Center as their in-house evaluator and Graduate Research Assistant. Rachel, who is native to Excelsior, Minnesota, also teaches English to adult non-native speakers and studies flamenco in her free time. She is fluent in Spanish and comes from a beautiful blended bilingual family. Rachel believes in the importance of community participation in decisions, and inclusion of absent narratives in education and evaluation.

Following 2016’s tumultuous election season and the ensuing months, I have been trying to reclaim the word “win.” Rather than a term with a shallow, holier-than-thou connotation, I am working on underscoring the essence of positivity that lies in “winning.” I want to get back to the burst of warmth that wraps around you after achieving something and working hard, and de-emphasize the fame and grandeur that comes with winning.

In reflecting on my role here at the Minnesota Humanities Center, it is truly a win-win-win situation. Here’s why:

I win:

I have the opportunity to develop and refine my evaluation skills at the Humanities Center. Not only is it a beautiful building with rich history, I get to interact with and learn from talented and insightful people. The Humanities Center is home to an astute staff well equipped to have evaluative conversations, which makes my role as an evaluation research assistant much easier.

I also ‘win’ because I have found the Humanities Center to be the ideal environment for the kind of evaluation that I hope to focus on in my career. I am drawn to the approaches known in the field as Utilization-Focused, Interactive, and Developmental Evaluation. Basically, this means that all the techniques and approaches I keep in my “evaluator toolkit” are relationship-driven, use-based (because what’s the point if the work isn’t going to be used?), and continuously evolving.

What’s more, I have had the chance to participate in some paradigm-shifting, deeply impactful programming like the Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshop, the Bdote Field Trip, and various Veterans’ Voices events. These experiences have both required and encouraged me to listen to authentic, courageous people, all while learning, unlearning, and relearning stories of place, privilege, and voice.

Finally, I win having an amazing professor who is my advisor as well as my mentor. My mentor is the quintessential teacher/role model, who deeply values people in the work she does. Her contagious passion for evaluation is what first steered me in the direction of this career. Her work and teachings in interactive evaluation practice continue to inspire me. My mentor is one of those rare gems you encounter in life. She is sincere and incredibly humble, all while blazing a beautiful trail for evaluators around the world to follow. It is quite the privilege to work alongside and learn from her.

My mentor wins:

And finally, if you were to ask her, my mentor would say she wins by having one of her advisees here working on the ground with the organization.

The Humanities Center wins:

With a new evaluator’s perspective and my developing skills, the Humanities Center wins, too. I hope that my energy and dedication to the work goes somewhere. I want to be asking the right questions. I want to develop my practice and use my heart, mind, and spirit to better understand the Humanities Center’s role in Minnesota’s legacy, and in the lives of those who are fortunate enough to be in relationship with this human-centered organization.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sheila Laughton - Another Side of Storytelling

Sheila Laughton works with Veterans and their families to address the spiritual dimensions of reintegration, moral injury, and other life issues. She is a facilitator for Healing of Memories Workshops, providing one step on the healing journey for anyone who has experienced trauma. Sheila is a 2016 Veterans’ Voices awardee.

I am a professional listener; it is my job. But sometimes, I get to tell my story.

A few months ago I, along with fourteen other individuals, mostly strangers, drove though the first blizzard watch of the season to sit in a circle and share our life stories in an effort to deal with some memories that were affecting our lives. We were an eclectic bunch — young and old, male and female, Ph.D.s and high school dropouts, African- and European-Americans, alcoholics and abstainers, pillars of our community and homeless. We had been promised a safe place to tell our most traumatic stories. For some, this would be the first time; while for others, the stories were well-rehearsed. We thought we knew how much we would be willing to share, but we would all be surprised by the depths we actually reached. This time we would not only tell our stories, but we would be heard, believed, and acknowledged by multiple witnesses. We would be affirmed as valuable human beings. And we would see that it was our pain that connected us.

Storytelling has been a part of every culture for longer than recorded history. It entertains, educates, transmits culture, and creates community. But it can also reinforce a climate of “us-versus-them” to create an “other,” or strengthen existing negative stereotypes. And then there are the personal stories we have never told which have become self-destructive, overpowering our otherwise rational mind.

Each of us sees life through the lens of our unique experiences, but sometimes our perspective is clouded by trauma or physical, emotional, or spiritual injury. Are we aware of the ripple effects of family and community stories? Which stories do I share? Do I remember what actually happened—what I did, what was done to me, or what I failed to do—or could the ‘facts’ be distorted by time or trauma? Does how and what I tell convince me the ‘other’ always has the upper hand or that I’m somehow not worthy—or, do they help me make meaning of my life? Can I see the positive in life, or is everything negative? And what about those stories I never share—the ones where I am the shameful victim or the villain? Can good listeners help me put my stories into a context beyond my vision?

Now each time I tell my story, it’s different because I have seen it through the perspective of my listeners. I can see cause and effect between my past and present because I have been able to tell my story to multiple people who honored it. I learned to no longer judge yesterday’s actions by today’s insights. I’m even learning to forgive my worst critic—me.

I cannot change the past, only my interpretation of it. But I can change the story I tell.