Archive for the ‘Voices from the Field’ Category
Our fifth annual Staff Summer Reading List is here! You’ll find a collection of enthusiastic recommendations for books that are wildly different. Isn’t that what is so great about books!? There is truly something on the WHC bookshelf for everyone. Happy reading!
Jessica’s pick: My friend was deeply engrossed in a book when I came upon him sitting on a bench in the woods. I left our encounter with his sincere recommendation to read “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The call felt urgent and I bought the book on my way home. In her commencement speech at Northland College, where she received an honorary degree, Kimmerer said, “for the world to stay in balance there is an ongoing exchange of gifts between people and the living world.” It is fitting that I was given the ‘gift’ of this book while hiking in the woods.
Kimmerer beautifully braids stories from her life as a mother, a botanist, a professor, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. The essays, or vignettes, are clustered progressively in sections called planting sweetgrass, tending sweetgrass, picking sweetgrass, braiding sweetgrass and burning sweetgrass. One of my favorites is titled “Learning the Grammar of Animacy.” It is a humorous and humble story about learning to speak a new language and all that is revealed about culture and oneself through language. For Kimmerer, the lessons come while learning Potawatomi, an Anishinaabe language. She writes, “now my house is spangled with Post-it notes in another language, as if I were studying for a trip abroad. But I’m not going away, I’m coming home.”
Language is important to Kimmerer. Her words flow, making this an easy read, though the ideas are deep and held up with solid science. Quoting the commencement speech again, Kimmerer says that gratitude reminds us “we are not alone in the world [and] that our very existence relies on the gifts of others.” So if this recommendation strikes you at the right moment, then consider it a gift and read up. Braiding Sweetgrass is a perfect story for summer.
Carmelo’s pick: I have recently begun reading the book “Craeft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts ” by the British archaeologist and medieval historian Alexander Langlands. This wonderful book grabbed my attention by the end of the first paragraph of the introduction. In “Craeft” Langlands invites the reader to reflect on the cultural meaning of more than a thousand years of art, craft, and manual labor history in the British Isles. The book describes the many techniques and traditions that went into making stuff by hands for millennia (literally everything) before the Industrial Revolution and the vocabulary associated with them. Most of this vocabulary has fallen out of use in our Modern era.
According to Langlands, the word “craeft” (not its modern iteration: Craft) is nearly untranslatable to us, since it encompassed “a form of knowledge, not just a knowledge of making but a knowledge of being.” Based on what I’ve read so far, I sense that Langlands is persuading his readers to think beyond the words and tools that have fallen into disuse since we stopped making everything with our hands, in order to rediscover what has been lost in our age of mass-produced manufactured goods. As the director of the Working Lives Project, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
Mike’s pick: Bobby Kennedy, A Raging Spirit by Chris Mathews is an engaging, though not too heavy, biography. Matthews is the anchor of MSNBC’s Hardball and and expert on the Kennedy family. As a fan of history, I appreciated reading about the early years of Bobby’s life, his start in politics, and his role as attorney general in his brother’s administration. I recommend this summertime read for those interested in the Kennedy clan, Camelot, and the politics of 1950’s and 60’s.
Dena’s pick: There are some novels that I love better, but for none of these would I make the claim that they are better as novels than George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I belong to a very large club of admirers. Middlemarch is reasonably and widely considered the greatest of the Victorian novels. And oh, those Victorians! So if you, like me, somehow missed reading this classic, don’t put it off a moment longer. You’ll find a book full of endlessly complex characters that is rich in ideas, compassion, poetry, and sly humor. It was my most enjoyable read of the past year.
Shawn’s pick: I recommend a novel titled The Girl Before by JP Delaney. It’s a top-notch who-dun-it psychological thriller that will keep you turning the page. Although I was reading it while traveling on the Glacier Express through the stunning Swiss Alps, I couldn’t put it down.
Meg’s pick: As we were planning Wisconsin’s Water Future, our Beyond The Headlines program in Madison, I kept hearing mention of several books related to water issues that I’m very much enjoying – if you can use “enjoy” about stories with such dark themes running through them. Dan Egan’s, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, UW’s latest Big Read selection, tells a highly readable and compelling history of the Great Lakes. I’m only a few chapters in and already a theme of decision-making made based on cheapest and quickest, without much research or thought to long-term impacts, is playing out. Such decisions led to the arrival of multiple invasive species in the Great Lakes that have collapsed fisheries and imperiled ecosystems.
Hewing to the water theme, as well as the consequences-of-bad-decisions theme, I am about halfway through The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. It’s a gritty future dystopia that examines what happens when something we all need to survive – water – becomes a commodity that most people can’t afford. One of the protagonists is a burned out Pulitzer-award winning journalist who could move away from a virtually waterless Phoenix, but she feels compelled to cover the stories of the people navigating the collapse of the Southwest. But knowing too much is dangerous. Water wars wage between states and corporate water owners over the waters of the Colorado River and other sources. Their militias create water refugees who become an exploited and oppressed underclass scrambling for ounces of recycled wastewater as the wealthy, foreign or disaster tourist classes consume water at an extravagant rate. Both books are certainly reminders that water is life.
Gail’s pick: Do yourself a favor this summer and pick up The Driftless Reader, edited by Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley. It is a wonderful selection of excerpts of literary, journalistic, and scientific writings created to present a beautiful mosaic of the region. The Driftless Area is a rugged land, reaching into four states. It has been home to an extraordinary group of people: Ho-Chunk, Sauk, Dakota, Norwegian farmers, Dominican nuns, Buddhist monks, Cornish miners, African American barn builders, Hmong and Amish farmers, Shakespearean actors and more.
There are eighty texts in the book, including the writings of Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Aldo Leopold, David Rhodes, Fabu, Wallace Stegner, Patty Loew, Pedro Guerrero, John Muir, and so many more –Native people, explorers, historians, scientists, and poets. There are also maps, paintings and illustrations scattered throughout this beautiful book.
One of my all-time favorite books, The Land Remembers by Ben Logan, is excerpted and sums up, for me, why the best way to understand this region is by looking at it through different lenses. Logan wrote, “There is no neat and easy way to tell the story of a farm. A farm is a process, where everything is related, everything is happening at once. It is a circle of life; and there is no logical place to begin a perfect circle. This is an unsolved paradox for me. Part of the folly of our time is the idea that we can see the whole of something by looking at the pieces, one at a time. Yet, how else tell the story of the farm?”
That is the best way to enjoy this reader: one story at a time. It is a rich and delicious read on a summer day or anytime throughout the year!
By Alison Staudinger
Why do you work?
How can a daily activity like work be both the worst and the best of life? Perhaps it is in part because humans have come to expect meaning from their work, in addition to material or social benefits. To understand this development, the humanities offer a unique lens. They offer records of the everyday and methods to study them.
On Poetry and Memory
by Karla Huston
I never saw a Purple Cow
I never hope to see one
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one
Those lines are from a poem by Gelett Burgess. It is a poem I remember my father reciting to me when I was a child. I remember imagining that purple cow mooing through my past, swishing her purple tail.
I’m more serious about poetry now. Read More
Years ago, a friend of a friend was telling a story about a local horse deal, when she said something that took me aback. Describing the deal, she said she had been “jewed down.” Not only had I never heard a neighbor make a reference to Jews in any context, I had never in my life heard someone standing right in front of me say something anti-Semitic.
Puzzling over it later, I was sure of two things: 1) that the person who used it was unthinking in her incorporation of an ugly stereotype into her vocabulary, and thus at some level into her worldview, and 2) that if she were asked to think about what it meant for Jewish people like me for such a phrase to be used, she would see the darker significance and gladly stop using it.
When I saw reports of white supremacists with Nazi flags marching in Charlottesville, Read More
This is a question we love to ask, and answer.
In a conversation with my seven-year-old recently, I casually but deliberately mentioned that there are books about any question you could possibly ask.
“You mean there are books about where the first seeds came from, and who planted them?” she immediately replied. She was incredulous.
Yes, there are so many books. More than we’ll ever read in one lifetime. And isn’t that wonderful!?
Every summer we indulge ourselves in the fun of sharing some book recommendations with you. Here is our list for summer 2017, though these books will hold there own into 2018 and beyond. Enjoy!
On this day in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregation of public schools “solely on the basis of race” denies black children “equal educational opportunity.” Thurgood Marshall argued the Brown v. Board of Education case before the Court. He went on to become the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court.
Emily Rock is curator at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, where she manages the artifact collection, coordinates educational programs, and curates exhibits. She is passionate about community building and works to make history come alive with creative approaches to storytelling.
Asylum: Out of the Shadows, open through May 20th at The History Museum at the Castle, is the result of Emily’s and others’ effort tell the story of the Outagamie County Asylum. With this exhibition, the museum ambitiously sought ‘truth and reconciliation’ for past abuses and aimed to personalize the stories of the residents and employees. We are proud to be a funder of this community exploration as part of our Working Lives Project.
We believe in the power of face-to-face conversation and we value community. This comes through in our programs, which forward our mission to use history, culture and conversation to strengthen community life. And so when we moved into our new office space last summer, we knew it was a good excuse for a party.
Last week, we welcomed friends new and old to our Regent Street office. Our cozy space was filled with music, food, conversation, and lots of good energy. Now in our 45th year, WHC ties and friendships are deep and strong. Thank you to all who were with us!
You may know that federal support for the humanities goes back to the founding of the National Endowment for the Humanities 1965. You may not know this fun piece of American history that Dena Wortzel, WHC director, shared at our party. Until the founding of the United States Postal Service in 1792 with the Post Office Act, postal service in countries around the world was created for and used by nations’ elites. Our founding fathers believed a literate populace was the key to sustaining democratic institutions. They thought the way to achieve this was to circulate newspapers to every American.
After independence from England, the new government created a system of routes and established that all newspapers could be mailed at the same low rate. This set off an explosion of new newspapers from all sorts of political viewpoints. The post office was the main way, sometimes the only way, people got information. From this initial and fundamental structuring of a system to provide access to news and differing viewpoints, our democracy grew.
The WHC takes pride in its 45 year history of partnerships and friendships with people, communities, and organizations around the state. Federal support, and therefore our future, is uncertain. We are grateful for your support, and all that you do to keep humanities conversations vibrant.
Thank you for contacting your members of Congress to ask for his or her support for full funding of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Federal/State Partnership, which funds the Wisconsin Humanities Council. To find your representative, click here.
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This Opinion piece was published on March 8, 2017 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
by Anne Pryor
It would be a short-sighted mistake by Congress to eliminate or defund the National Endowment for the Arts or the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Communities across Wisconsin are better informed, more cohesive and creatively positioned to market their assets thanks to investments made through grants from the endowments. Both founded in 1965 by Congress, the two endowments support local endeavors generated by community members who want to connect with others on vital issues. They do this by creating exhibits, conducting research, performing, conversing or preserving heritage, and the endowments provide seed money to make this happen. Read More