Reflections: Our Favorite Humanities Experiences of 2015


The past year has been an important year at the WHC. We have been working hard to use our online presence to support and strengthen the statewide humanities community. These efforts include using Facebook to spread inspiration, encourage curiosity, and celebrate your work, and ours. We also participate in the lively and often reverential Twitter conversation about the public humanities.

And here, on Humanities Booyah, we are sharing best practices for public programming, talking about the challenges of writing grant proposals, and highlighting voices, ideas and projects with articles written just for you. A year ago, we declared our goals for this online magazine. In the coming year, we will be reaching out to learn from you: What can we do better? What do you want to read? What is missing from the online humanities landscape and how might the WHC fill this gap?

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In this spirit, we asked our staff and board members to share with us a memorable, or favorite, humanities experience from 2015. Below are a few. As always, we’d love to hear from you. Tell us, what experiences did you find motivating? Were there instances where you felt or saw impact? Who do you see making a difference? What empowering ideas can you share?

Opening the Circle 

DSC_0019Shared by Gail Kohl, WHC Development Director

“Over the course of 2015, we put together the pieces to launch the Alumni Circle!   We are so excited to have this energetic group of past board members  help us raise awareness of the work of WHC.   Our first meeting together in Madison this past November with our Co-Chairs Tish Crawford and John Hanson was truly remarkable.   They help set the stage for this vital group to fan out across  the state for us. I see great things ahead in 2016 with our newly formed Alumni Circle!”

Read more about the Alumni Circle here!

(Photo of Alumni Circle members Tish Crawford and Arnold Chevalier taken by Shawn Schey)



A Graphically Refreshing Perspective

Shared by Chia Vang, WHC Board Member, Associate Professor of History at UW-Milwaukee, and the Director of the Hmong Diaspora Studies Program

Port Washington“I attended a screening of the film, ‘Through a Lens Darkly,’ as part of the”Analog Photography: Looking Back and Looking Ahead” project [funded in part with a WHC Major Grant]. It was held at the Niederkorn Library in Port Washington on August 19, 2015. The film explored black lives through the eyes of black photographers. Following the film, attendees engaged in a thoughtful discussion. The film was intense and almost everyone had something to say about it. Participants went back and forth about how so many of the racial issues highlighted in the film were still prevalent in US society, despite the progress that has been made. What I loved about the conversation was that most people shared how they could relate to the themes of the film. What I loved about the film was that it incorporated photos from family albums and those taken by professional photographers. I think one of the most powerful parts of the film is the way in which it contrasted black lives and history through the eyes (photographs) of African Americans with dominant narratives about them. As a historian, I am always conscious of the need to take into account the lived experiences of ordinary people to help inform our understanding of larger historical processes. I met the people who organized this event for the first time and I found their enthusiasm and willingness to talk about difficult issues refreshing.”

(Photo of Port Washington by Jessica Becker)


“Not a Boat” but a Skiff Merged Past and Present

Shared by Dennis McCann, WHC Board Member, former journalist with Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and author of books on Wisconsin travel and history

OverallSM“I attended the christening of the newly constructed fishing skiff Cubbie Lebel wearing two hats. First, I am a volunteer at the Bayfield Maritime Museum and over the course of a year was able to track the progress volunteer builders made from week to week, fashioning a replica boat from simple pine boards using mostly hand tools. And second, I am a member of the Wisconsin Humanities Council, whose grant of $2,000 for the museum had helped make the project possible. The dedication drew a crowd of museum volunteers, a few curious tourists and a number of older Bayfield residents for whom fishing was once a way of life. With the assistance of his son and daughter, longtime fisherman Julian Nelson, who was 99-and-a-half at the time, poured a small vial of brandy on the front of the Cubbie Lebel, remarking how it was so like the kind of fishing craft he had used for so long. “Don’t call it a boat,” he reminded us. “It’s a skiff.” And with that a lesson was taught, past and present neatly merged. It was my favorite humanities moment of the year.”

Read more about the Lebel Skiff project here.
(Photo by Don Albrecht)


“Meet my boys” in the Cemetery

Shared by Shoshauna Shy, WHC Administrative Specialist and poet

Talking Spirits 2015 by Wisconsin Veterans Museum“One of the programs I attended was the Talking Spirits Forest Hill Cemetery Tour, funded in part with a mini-grant from the WHC. I joined a class of fourth graders to watch the living history performances. One of the vignettes took place  in a corner of the cemetery tucked beneath the trees where 140 Confederate soldiers were buried after the Civil War. Alice Whiting Waterman, a transplanted southerner who devoted 30 years to caretaking of this little plot, was portrayed by an actress who brought the audience back 150 years. She invited the students to climb right in with her among the headstones so she could “introduce my boys” to them. These soldiers who had joined the Confederate army and died at Camp Randall a few miles away were, as she explained, mere teenagers, not much older than these kids themselves. In the autumnal shade of the evergreens, Alice talked about where individual soldiers had grown up and what they did in the war, and transported us back in time….and yet the past seemed very present in this woman’s love for these fallen and (not so forgotten) soldiers.”

Read more about the Talking Spirits Forest Hill Cemetery Tour here.
(Photo by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum)


Deep Thoughts in the Menominee Forest

Shared by Troy Reeves, WHC Board Member and an Oral Historian with UW-Madison Archives

File Jun 16, 11 06 41 AM“My favorite humanities event of 2015 was attending the WHC board meeting in June in Keshena (Menominee County), hosted by tribal member and fellow board member Arnold Chevalier. Even though I was not officially a board member yet, I left that meeting—which included a tour of the beautiful Menominee Forest—with two thoughts: one new and one reaffirming. First, that joining the WHC board was the best decision I made all year, because it immediately connected with a truly diverse group of fellow humanists. And second that the WHC does indeed strive to both bring people together to share and explore ideas and to promote understanding of ourselves and our state.”

Read more about the WHC’s visit to the Menominee Forest here. You can also read other Humanities Booyah articles by Troy Reeves about oral history here.


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