Author Archive

When a visionary director takes inspiration from a visionary artist

Humanities Programs in Focus | October 26, 2017 | By:

Heritage Days offers the “chance to overcome generations of mistrust and create passionate young historians who will keep history alive and relevant to our lives.”  

Driving north on highway 13, just before you get to the town of Phillips in northern Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Concrete Park is hard to miss.  More than 200 sculptures, made of concrete and studded with colored glass, depict giants, winged angels, figures of history and legend, menageries of wild and domestic animals, and various scenes of ordinary men and women in daily life.  Read More

What is the right response to hate?

Voices from the Field | August 17, 2017 | By:

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

The day the boys came home

Humanities Programs in Focus | August 3, 2017 | By:


For many veterans of the Vietnam War, coming home was not about waving flags, proud friends and relatives, and open arms, as it was for the two veterans of Iraq who I helped to welcome home.  Vietnam vets often felt, and were indeed treated, like pariahs even by family and friends.  As Wisconsin veteran Bruce Canny told me recently, “Back then it was more or less to your advantage to keep it secret.”  He recalls being shunned by one of his wife’s relatives, though they later became close.

It has been fifty years since Dow Chemical, the producer of napalm, was driven from the UW-Madison campus by the war’s opponents while, from towns across Wisconsin, men like Canny were being shipped to Vietnam – destined to come back changed, or not at all.  Read More

From the Director: Looking for Leadership

Humanities Programs in Focus | January 25, 2017 | By:

American flag in a fieldIn 2010, Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, finished his first year on the job and a 50-state “civility tour.”  Today, when aggressively hyper-partisan politics leave the nation feeling more deeply divided than ever, the idea of a federal agency leader preaching civility can seem weirdly idealistic.  But Leach had spent 30 years in Congress prior to the NEH, which might damage a person’s idealism, but should hopefully add to their realism – at least about what we should ask of the federal government. Read More

A Black Police Officer Tells His Story

Humanities Programs in Focus, Our Working Lives Project | November 17, 2016 | By:

Corey Saffold presents ShopTalk in Waukesha

What is it like to be a cop, and black?

When a white state trooper pulled over a black off-duty Madison police officer, Corey Saffold, what did the trooper assume about the man with dreadlocks and a gun – officer Saffold’s service pistol – on the passenger seat?  What did the trooper do next? Read More

Welcome to Five New Board Members!

Humanities Programs in Focus | June 3, 2015 | By:

Every June, the WHC welcomes new members to our board – and says good-bye to departing members.  Most of the great people leaving us served two three-year terms.  That’s a lot of time and a huge contribution.  This year we gratefully thank Jasmine Alinder, John Savagian, Jarett Fields, David Hankins and Bob Cook for all they brought to the WHC.

And this summer we welcome five new folks who bring with them a wonderfully diverse array of talents and backgrounds. Read More

Money goes to Eleven Wisconsin Projects

Humanities Programs in Focus | March 18, 2015 | By:


We are pleased to announce that Major and Mini-grants have been awarded to eleven remarkable public humanities projects. As you can see from the map, our successful applicants are located around the state. Those dots represent good ideas, community engagement, and impressive dedication to enriching community life on the part of your fellow Wisconsinites.

What we cannot show you on this map is the diversity of these projects. As you read the descriptions below, you will find some efforts that have been evolving over years, and others that are fresh and innovative. Read More

True Stories…We are listening

Humanities Programs in Focus, Our Working Lives Project | February 11, 2015 | By:

by Dena Wortzel, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Humanities Council. Originally published in full in the spring 2015 issue of ON: True Stories.

Ernst Eitner painting from-Grohmann

“You won’t believe what happened to me…”

Did I get your attention? Have you started a story that way yourself?

The power of a single story was brought home to me recently, when I was interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio.  I told a story from my childhood in Europe, about an elderly woman who I saw every night as she lit the streets’ gas lamps. Gas lamps were replaced by electric lights by the 1980s, and the job of lamplighter disappeared.  Today, gas lamps are being reinstalled in Prague and the job of lamplighter exists again, although now it is performed by young men clad in period costume.

Like the job of the lamplighter who I never met but I remember so well, every person’s job is part of a web of connections – to the past, to changing cultural values, changing technology, economics and public policy, as well as to other people.  The story of the lamplighters highlights the fact that a lot of what we depend upon is the product of unseen labor by people we probably will never meet.  Once the lamplighter on the street is gone, it’s easier to forget about the people who keep the lights on. Unless you develop awareness of others’ work as part of your worldview.

Right after the interview, a woman contacted me.  Read More

It is about Work: Making a Living and Making a Life

Humanities Programs in Focus, Our Working Lives Project | September 3, 2014 | By:

by Dena Wortzel, Executive Director


The Working Lives Project written over a painting from the Grohman Museum collection.

We can learn from and celebrate the life and work of every person.

We believe the humanities offer unique tools to help us reflect deeply and act wisely, both in our private lives and as members of society.  The Working Lives Project is a new WHC initiative to help the people of Wisconsin do just that in today’s changing world of work. A new website for the project launched on Labor Day and we hope you’ll check it out!

Five years after the end of the recession, long-term unemployment is still very high.  The ideas we hear in the media about how to reduce unemployment can feel more like political theater than real solutions.  Even if proposals seem reasonable, they are often at odds.  From the state Capitol to the kitchen table, people are struggling to understand and respond.

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New Board Members Bring Talent

Humanities Programs in Focus, Voices from the Field | June 4, 2014 | By:


Have you wondered who makes the decisions around here? Who are the people reviewing the grant proposals and making funding decisions?

Our volunteer board is the best there is, a talented group of people dedicated to the humanities in the public sphere. This group of 25 hails from all across Wisconsin– from Bayfield  to Spring Green! They bring to the WHC a wonderfully diverse array of talents and backgrounds, and tons of expertise.

In my years of traveling Wisconsin for newspaper columns for the Journal Sentinel I relied heavily on local libraries, historical societies and many of the kinds of groups that look to the Council for support, so I feel an obligation to try to give back a bit in this way. I hope I bring a broad knowledge of Wisconsin and its people, even as I acknowledge I have lots to learn about the grant process and other WHC duties.   -Dennis McCann

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