That was my first question when I began my internship at the Missouri Humanities Council (MH) this semester. I quickly learned that humanities councils work with a wide network of organizations to provide residents high quality exhibits and programming, often in communities that might not have been able to access them otherwise. Every state has a humanities council, and ours is particularly active:
“MH provides programming that encourages family reading, highlights Missouri’s heritage, supports creative writing by veterans, and assists local museums, libraries, and other organizations promoting education—facilitating public conversations on topics that include history, religion, archaeology, anthropology, philosophy, literature, law, ethics, and languages.”
As you might imagine, it is nearly impossible to describe a “typical work day” at the Missouri Humanities Council. As a graduate intern this semester, however, I was able to glimpse a small part of their widespread impact.
Most days I worked with Dr. Monique Johnston, Director of Education Programs, helping to facilitate history education on a statewide level. My major project was managing the Show Me Missouri Speakers’ Bureau, which connects history speakers to organizations across the state. I was offered many opportunities to provide input and take leadership of projects as well. Using my knowledge of the current Speakers’ Bureau program and seeing a need for teen-related humanities content in the state, I created a project proposal for adding young adult presentations to the bureau roster in the future. I was also responsible for scheduling the tour of Rightfully Hers, a pop-up exhibit from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) celebrating the centennial of 19th Amendment. So far, the exhibit has been viewed by students in four high school and university libraries in the KC metro area. It was even used as part of an extra credit assignment for a Liberty High School social studies class!
Some days offered experiences that were just plain fun! In September, I helped children (and a few adults!) create their own story books as a stop on a Where the Wild Things Are themed literary scavenger hunt in the Crossroads neighborhood. Though not something that I would have expected to do as a history intern, it was a great opportunity to see how MH gets children and their families engaged with the humanities.
One of the most interesting days was spent in Columbia, MO. I attended and helped prepare for a statewide planning meeting for organizations hosting the upcoming WaterWays exhibit, about the human connection to water. Missouri Humanities is bringing this exhibit to the state in 2020 via the Smithsonian’s Museums on Main Street (MOMS) program, which works exclusively with humanities councils to offer high quality exhibits to small towns across the nation. The meeting was fascinating, as each host organization discussed their town’s historic connections to Missouri’s water system, and their plans for engaging their communities in those stories.
Though no two were the same, each day at MH provided opportunities to learn something new, and helped me gain skills to add to my public historian’s tool belt.
So, what does a Humanities Council do? A better question might be: What don’t they do?