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).