Author Archive

Staff Summer Reading Picks for 2018

Humanities Programs in Focus, Voices from the Field | June 7, 2018 | By:

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 BeckerJessica’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 KeanMike’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!

What we were reading last summer





Our 2016 Summer Reading Picks





Top Summer Reading Selections in 2015




The first ever WHC Summer Reading List


A promising sign

Humanities Programs in Focus | May 30, 2018 | By:

Last week we learned that a House Appropriations sub-committee is proposing a $5 million increase for the National Endowment for the Humanities in fiscal year 2019. We’re early in the budget process, but this is a very promising start.  Read More

The Robots are Coming?

Our Working Lives Project | May 4, 2018 | By:

By Carmelo Davila, Working Lives Project Director, and Jessica Becker

How will technological advancement and automation impact jobs in the U.S. and abroad?

“Will a robot take my job?” and other concerns about how technology is affecting the workplace are part of ongoing speculation about what the future of work will be for each of us. This is a complicated issue. It is not enough to hear from computer scientists, engineers, economists, or policy makers. As humans living through changes and preparing for more, we can look to the humanities to draw from historical, philosophical, and ethical sources to develop our own understanding of these changes.

The Working Lives Project is the WHC’s multi-year effort to spark thoughtful discussion about issues facing working people in our state now and into the future. A humanities approach is inclusive, reflective, and takes into consideration how Wisconsinites individually and collectively are ‘making a living and making a life’ through their work.

Read More

In the News: The Humanities Prevail

Humanities Programs in Focus | April 4, 2018 | By:

A year ago we were reeling from the news.  The President’s FY18 federal budget was released to the public.  It called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  With about 90% of our funding coming from the NEH, we faced the possibility that after 45 years, the WHC could be shut down. 

I was extremely worried, but I told everyone that it is Congress that has the power of the purse.  And I believed that Republican and Democratic members of Congress who have long seen the value of the NEH, and of state humanities councils like the WHC, would stand behind their commitment to public funding of our work.  I was confident that the WHC would survive, although I thought it likely that we would see our budget reduced.  Read More

Announcing Spring Grant Awards totaling $102,427

Humanities Programs in Focus | March 14, 2018 | By:

This spring we are proud to announce that 17 organizations have been awarded $102,427 in Major Grants and Mini Grants! These projects tell meaningful stories about Wisconsin and bring communities together to explore important themes. We welcome you to be a part of the story and see these projects and events

The Wisconsin Humanities Council couldn’t fund these projects without support from the National Endowment of the Humanities. The NEH provides 90% of the funding that enables us to bring great programming, support and services to the state of Wisconsin. Curious about the WHC’s impact in the state? Learn more here!

Inspiration starts here!

Read More

The look and feel of work for women today

Humanities Programs in Focus, Our Working Lives Project | February 23, 2018 | By:

News articles, studies, and personal experience together paint a complex picture of women’s lives in 2018. Women face unique obstacles in their lives and careers. They are also leading the way, redefining the norms, taking risks and confidently re-imagining the world.

Both modern and historical factors shape the ongoing conversation about women’s working lives. All of us are affected, no matter our gender.

And that is where ShopTalk comes in. Read More

Can we talk to one another, online?

Humanities Programs in Focus | February 7, 2018 | By:

Join the conversation

The WHC has been committed to civil dialogue, civic democracy, and building strong communities since our founding more than 40 years ago. These are things we continue to hold dear. We seek out places and ways to promote these basic principals because this is how the humanities are relevant in our day-to-day lives, today and throughout time.

More and more of our time is spent in digital spaces. We know that sub-sector of our lives is fraught with challenges both unique and similar to what is going on in the public sphere. How do we listen to people with stories different than our own? How do we express our curiosities, ask questions respectfully, and seek out common ground? How do we share parts of ourselves and feel safe, build community, and grow to trust each other?

The answers are just as complicated as the questions. But we are trying.

The WHC has partnered with Love Wisconsin, a digital storytelling project focused primarily on Facebook, to use the Facebook Groups platform. Love Wisconsin Conversations was launched as a private Facebook group on January 22, 2018. The WHC is the founding partner and sponsor.

Call to action: join Love Wisconsin Conversations

Why Love Wisconsin?

We introduced you to the Love Wisconsin storysharing platform in November. Jet Waller and Megan Monday are Love Wisconsin’s creators. Starting two years ago, they began to interview Wisconsinites of different ages and backgrounds, from all corners of the state. Their driving objective has been to make accessible, compelling first-person narratives that help us all get to know more people through stories. And Wisconsinites have tuned in. 

Love Wisconsin stories are followed by more than 100,000 people. And the stories, presented in long-form over the course of a week, illicit human engagement that is remarkable for social media platforms. In fact, Love Wisconsin ranks in the top 5% of all pages globally for it’s level of engagement.

Most remarkable is the way in which the Love Wisconsin community reflects Wisconsin: thanks to Facebook analytics, we know the people who engage with Love Wisconsin’s stories are politically, economically and geographically diverse.

As an independent non-profit that serves the entire population of the state of Wisconsin, the WHC is fully committed to creating and supporting spaces that are welcoming to everyone. Again, we believe the humanities are tools, methods, and ways of exploring subject matter that encourages civil dialogue, civic democracy, and stronger communities.

Call to Action

So here’s what you can do: If you are a Facebook user, check out Love Wisconsin. If you like what you see and read, go ahead and ‘Like’ the page. If you are not a Facebook user, you can find the stories here.

And if you want to go deeper, we invite you to join Love Wisconsin Conversations. This private Facebook Group is where we’ll slow down to talk about the stories we read, like a book club. The WHC staff is participating in the conversation, too. This conversation will be rich with different perspectives, nuance, context, and respectful inquiry.

We hope to see you there!

Jessica, Dena, and Annette Miller at Love Wisconsin Conversations

Annette Miller (left) with Jessica Becker (center) and Dena Wortzel (right) from the Wisconsin Humanities Council. Ms. Miller is the facilitator for Love Wisconsin Conversations. She brings to these conversations her expertise building inclusive, welcoming communities where diverse perspectives are respected.

Happy New Year! Stories about work and the future

Our Working Lives Project | January 3, 2018 | By:

Happy New Year!

2018 is going to be a big year for our Working Lives Project!

Stories are at the heart of the humanities. From history to anthropology to philosophy to literature, all the lenses of the humanities help us to understand ourselves – where we’ve been and where we are going – through stories.

Stories will continue to be central to our 2018 Working Lives Project events. Watch for a provocative discussion about automation, artificial intelligence, and the future of work in Kenosha this spring and more storytelling events in cities around the state later in the year. Read More

We are grateful for stories: our new project with Love Wisconsin

Humanities Programs in Focus | November 22, 2017 | By:

Duane and Barb grew up in northern Wisconsin. High-school sweethearts, they are now in their later years. Together they have started a movement to preserve their Finnish cultural heritage. Duane said, “In my class as a kid, about 80% of the Finnish kids spoke Finn. In my brother’s class, about three years later, it was probably 5%. It happened that fast. So now we’re trying to build it back up.” Read More

Mini Grants awarded this fall

Humanities Programs in Focus | September 13, 2017 | By:

Mini Grants awarded in September 2017

We’re pleased to award $8,000 to four great projects that include exploring the plays of Ibsen to support for high school students to learn about the working lives of construction and trades workers; and from the exploration of perceptions of Black motherhood to celebrating the conclusion of a community visioning project.

The Wisconsin Humanities Council couldn’t fund these projects without support from the National Endowment of the Humanities. The NEH provides 90% of the funding that enables us to bring great programming, support and services to the state of Wisconsin. Project sponsors match grants in their community with an average of $3 for every $1 we award.

Congratulations to these four organizations! These projects tell meaningful stories about Wisconsin and bring communities together to explore important themes. We welcome you to be a part of the story and see these projects and events.

Inspiration starts here! Read More