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.
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