Forming the Future: the Florida Humanities Council and University of Florida’s Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere

I have heard colleagues describe the academic humanities and the public humanities as two different sides of the same coin: they are made out of the same material, but they never touch. I disagree. Rather, the humanities are a broad and diverse terrain where academic pursuit connects to broad audiences and contemporary concerns in myriad, constantly changing ways. I have come to this new analogy after several years of partnering with the Florida Humanities Council, most notably on a series of high school summer seminars and educator workshops named Humanities and the Sunshine State.

Almost ten years ago at the formal launch of the University of Florida (UF) Humanities Center, we had internal conversations about creating a residential summer program for K-12 students to study the humanities. We had little knowledge of how to begin such an undertaking and promptly shelved the idea. Pursuing another idea a few years later, we developed a Programs in the Public Humanities Grant opportunity to fund public projects by teams of university and community partners. Patricia Putman at the Florida Humanities Council was crucial in helping us to establish the parameters and logistics of this granting program. We reached out to her for guidance, and she generously took the time to help us to craft clear and inclusive language, troubleshoot our call for proposals, and guide us in its dissemination. This relationship was one of mentorship, with the council assisting UF’s Humanities Center, but the door was open for more conversation.

Serendipitously, around this time, the Florida Humanities Council established a new “Humaniteens” grant-making program for intensive residential workshops that bring rising high school juniors and seniors to college and university campuses across Florida for a week of immersive activities, field trips, classes, and workshops in the humanities. This program appeared at the same time as the most recent humanities enrollment figures at UF, and the prognosis was sobering. How could we interest more students in studying the humanities? This time, with the program-building knowledge of the council, we applied and received a grant award. This is where our relationship with the Florida Humanities Council moved from one of mentorship to one of partnership.

Since 2015, Humanities and the Sunshine State has brought 106 high school students to UF. Although on the surface this looks like the Florida Humanities Council makes a grant to UF, behind the scenes we work together every step of the way. As the Fox Center’s Keith Anthony observed in relation to their partnership with Georgia Humanities, our partnership in Florida is also “not about mutual benefit,” but rather about a shared mission that we can only address by combining our resources. In our case, it is a shared question: Can a residential summer program form young people into lifelong supporters of the humanities? We don’t have the longitudinal answer yet, but all signs point to “Yes”!

Each of our organizations offers important pieces that make the partnership possible. UF has expert humanities instructors and graduate student scholars, an award-winning Center for Precollegiate Education and Training, and myriad resources in its archives, digital humanities spaces, and local fieldwork sites. The Florida Humanities Council has a devoted following of wide audiences including K-12 educators, decades of experience knowing how to structure the content and logistics of successful programs for diverse audiences, knowledge of local assets through its community funding programs, and a finger on the pulse of pressing issues in Florida. Even our program’s focus of “water” is a result of collaboration; it grows from the “Think Florida, Think Water” theme of the council, while also connecting UF environmental humanities scholarship to public policy, and Florida’s history to its future development.

Through partnering with the Florida Humanities Council, we have learned that program-building is not a zero-sum game. A partnership does not mean a shared spotlight; it means a larger one. Moreover, some of the council’s other partners such as the Museum on Main Street Program and other Humaniteens programs have become our partners as well. When building new programs, the first question we ask is: who will be our partners?

A partnership is a chance to share a mission, even if we occupy different spaces in the humanities ecosystem. I am proud that the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), which houses the Humanities Center, recognized the Florida Humanities Council with its inaugural “Nonprofit Partner Award” in 2017.

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From left to right: Dr. Sean Adams, Dr. Steven Noll, “Hugh” Manatee, CLAS Dean Dave Richardson, Mr. Steven Seibert (Florida Humanities Council), Dr. Sophia Acord, Dr. Paul Ortiz

–Sophia K. Acord, Ph.D., Associate Director, Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, University of Florida

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Collaborating to find new publics: Georgia Humanities and Emory University’s Fox Center

One of the greatest assets we at the Fox Center have for public humanities work is our close tie with Georgia Humanities.  They have been crucial in how we envision greater publics both within our community and across the state.  More than a resource, they are collaborators in programming and partners in thinking through best practices. Several years after starting our community-centered programming, we realized we needed to find ways to reach greater audiences and amplify our impact, and we would find an ally in our state council.

When we began public programming, we used the model of academically grounded seminars, but designed for the local community.  We wanted to encourage seminars that highlighted the cutting-edge humanities research taking place at the university, and thanks to existing programming around the campus, we had something of a built-in audience.  Our Great Works seminars feature a wide range of authors, artists, and texts—such as Virgil, The Koran, and Jane Austen—and we also include movements and periods, like Modernism and fin-de-siècle Vienna.  By encouraging multiple ways of showing the depth and breadth of humanistic inquiry across a spectrum, we want to provide ways for the greater community to see the nuanced humanities research being conducted today.

During a conversation with Georgia Humanities, we began to see how this form of seminar, which had now proven itself very popular, was easily portable and could benefit communities beyond our relatively small sphere in Atlanta.  In addition, these seminars could provide opportunities for our faculty to translate their work into public spheres.  As the discussion continued, the true value of collaborative planning between Georgia Humanities and ourselves began to emerge: Beyond simple replicability, policy and strategic questions were asked about best practices to make programming serve the community.  We thought about the uniqueness of time and place, the rich resources available in the greater research community, and how we each could contribute complementary resources.  This was not about mutual benefit:  it was about creating something more experimental, potentially more impactful, and definitely more extensive than either entity could do on our own.

We had worked together before on one-off projects, and we each approached our working together with goodwill, a ready willingness to find compromise, a collective vision for outcomes, and a disinterest credit: the program taking place was more important than who received top-billing. So we launched our pilot program of “The Georgia Seminars,” now in its fourth year.  While using our successful Great Works program as a model, we have re-envisioned the possibilities:  the seminars can be led by faculty as well as recognized experts; they can take place anywhere in the state; and they can cover the range of humanistic topics and experiences.  The only defining factor is that the seminars explore the spectrum of human experience across the state, including history, literature, politics, art, and commerce, and help define what it means to be Georgian.

We think of it as still being a pilot program:  this Fall (2018) we are offering our seventh seminar.  So far, including our own faculty, we have had a seminar led by a professor from another university, and one led by a documentary film-maker.  With Georgia Humanities guidance and collaboration with The Learning Center (Savannah), we had a seminar on Skidaway Island.  Working with our state humanities council, we are considering other venues and partnerships.  Our surveys have been exceptionally positive, and we feel the demand for this programming will only increase.

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Dr. William Bryan presenting “The Savannah:  The Story of a River and Its City” at The Learning Center                                             photo: Roger Smith

As Georgia Humanities and Emory’s Fox Center continue to work together, both entities share the common goal of amplifying the presence of the humanities in our state.  Without Georgia Humanities expertise, both strategic and structural, we would have little opportunity (and little chance of success) to engage this kind of broad-spectrum programming.  They have allowed us to dream big and grow carefully, and we have worked to provide seminars that can bring new and innovative topics from the academy directly to the public.  This has involved close collaboration with academic and community based organizations, and we are very grateful to have such fruitful relationships.

–Keith Anthony, Executive Director, The Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, Emory University