Thursday, January 29, 2015

Brianna Chambers Erickson - How do the Humanities define us as Americans?

Brianna Erickson is on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Humanities Center and serves as the Chair of Communications Committee. Brianna is currently an Account Supervisor, handling accounts in health care, for Weber Shandwick. A life-long Minnesotan, Brianna is an active alumna of Bethel University in St. Paul and Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis.

The humanities — in the form of storytelling — have defined for me what it means to be an American. Three of my grandparents served in the military, and the family culture they created is grounded in patriotism, purpose, and faith.

My maternal grandparents – he a Vietnam Veteran with 20 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, and she a former Air Force nurse who continued her service to the military as an Air Force spouse when they married and had children — regularly shared stories of their military lives with us. My grandfather’s tales of adventure and culture overseas captivated me, even in my skeptical teenage years. His stories of danger, excitement, sacrifice, and loss — often punctuated by moments on active duty when he “thought [they] were toast" — provided a partial definition of what it means to be an American. For each of my grandfather’s stories there is a complementary story of travel, worry, sacrifice, and loss from my grandmother’s experience as a military spouse and mother of four children. Together their stories gave me an appreciation for cultures outside of what I see every day and impressed upon me the values of service, purpose, sacrifice, and faith.

Part of what makes American culture so rich is our diversity — whether it’s two sides of the same path through life in the case of my grandparents, or two sides of a longstanding clash of ideas or cultures. Whether differences are large or small, the humanities help us show, share, listen, and understand — not just what divides us, but the similarities that bring us together.

The humanities are not uniquely American. Storytelling, the arts, history, and language studies pervade cultures, continents, and centuries, but an emphasis on the humanities must continue to be a defining component of American education. Incredible American writers, artists, and orators are not just a part of our history, but must also be a part of our future.

I’ve been blessed with grandparents willing to tell their stories and ensure my future is influenced by their past. Too many stories, however, are lost from one generation to the next, and too many Veterans aren’t given a captive audience eager to hear their stories, whether they entail loss, pain, camaraderie, or adventure. Each of us must take the time to ask and listen to the stories of others; the Minnesota Humanities Center is working to make this easier. Its programs focus on bringing the American stories that aren’t often told into the forefront of our community conversations. Learn more at


  1. I love the image of path and clash--"whether it’s two sides of the same path through life or two sides of a longstanding clash of ideas or cultures"--and your insight that the humanities illuminate the path and moderate--or at least mediate--the clashes.

  2. Thank you, Brianna. I'm discovering that MHC is not only bringing enriching American stories into community conversations, but using illuminating stories in very personal ways to improve learning outcomes for our precious children. As a new communications consultant for MHC, I've been amazed by the stories of transformation demonstrated by the MHC Education Strategy for Omaha Public Schools and Minnesota's similar foundational program. When we care enough to learn children's stories and see them for who they really are, without bias and preconception, they blossom and are more motivated to learn -- especially our struggling children. Who knew the power of story could change their lives so? Unbelievably powerful work. And I'm privileged to be a part of it.