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My New Life in Humanities

My New Life in Humanities

   by Chrissy Sommer  

For almost 9 years, I served in the Missouri Legislature on behalf of the people of St Charles County.  Prior to this, I was vice president of my family’s business and specialized in marketing and promotions.  My passions and love include the arts, theatre, and being creative to name a very few. 

When I started with the Missouri Humanities a little over 4 months ago, I was tasked with the job of bringing awareness to our great organization.  Although many people know about the study of humanities, many do not know about MO Humanities.  Many of my friends, family, and colleagues had never heard of us, let alone did they realize that the MO Humanities started over 50 years.

So when did it start?  Way back in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act into law.  The act called for the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  In 1971, NEH provided funds for six experimental state-based humanities programs of which Missouri was one of them.

Fast forward over 50 years, to 2022.  We are now one of 56 states and territories that receives support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as well as support from the Arts and Entertainment state fund (A&E).  But more importantly we receive support from individuals and businesses, who help us provide programming, events, grants, and more, around our state.

Now you may be asking yourself, why should I care and why are the humanities important?  Here are nine reasons stated by Curt Rice in an article he wrote.  While you read them, think of other reasons humanities are important to the world we live in today.  Why when it comes to science and business is humanities also valuable?

  1. The humanities help us understand others through their languages, histories, and cultures.
  2. They foster social justice and equality.
  3. They reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of the world.
  4. The humanities teach empathy.
  5. They teach us to deal critically and logically with subjective, complex, imperfect information.
  6. They teach us to weigh evidence skeptically and consider more than one side of every question.
  7. Humanities students build skills in writing and critical reading.
  8. The humanities encourage us to think creatively. They teach us to reason about being human and to ask questions about our world.
  9. The humanities develop informed and critical citizens. Without the humanities, democracy could not flourish. (1)

I believe that the humanities can help us to better understand our past, make sense of the present, and reimagine a better future.

But why are humanities so important in today’s world?  Because when we lose interest in the humanities, we lose our capacity for empathy and relationships.  By understanding the humanities, we become better citizens, better politicians, better friends, better people.  In my opinion, humanities are not one-sided (i.e. partisan) since we all can learn from the past to lead us down the best path possible.  

If you think about the humanities as the study of what makes us human, that includes not only our history, but our values and how we choose to live. Ignoring these choices and these stories sets us—all of us—up for failure.  It makes room for misguided opinions, drives wedges into reason. and encourages chaos. How are we to understand how to make choices moving forward if we choose to ignore the choices of the past and present? (2)

As seen in the Atlantic, “The humanities are such an important vehicle for widening the world … for teaching empathy for people outside yourself.  In this time of increasing tribalism, this seems like such a critical role.” History teaches students about the context of choices made in the past. Philosophy forces them to think about morality. Theater, literature, and film put students into the mindset of others. In difficult times, people inevitably turn to the humanities to try to understand adversity.” (3)

Likewise, per Inside Higher Ed, “For the humanities to survive, democracy must survive, and the survival of democracy is predicated upon robust humanistic inquiry and principles. No area of study, whether the sciences, engineering, social sciences or medicine, is so fundamentally linked to human rights, compassion, the mutuality of the individual and the collective, and the essential preservation and exploration of freedom through life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (4)

Famed “Star Wars” director George Lucas said this of the humanities: “The sciences are the ‘how,’ and the humanities are the ‘why’—why are we here, why do we believe in the things we believe in. I don’t think you can have the ‘how’ without the ‘why.’”

So, this is where I come into play.  Using my past skills and experiences, I will be sharing the story of Humanities, and more specifically, Missouri Humanities and I can’t wait! 

Whereas most people think of the visual and performing arts like the theatre when they think of the Humanities, there is much more than just that.  Humanities encompasses anything about the story of being human. What makes us unique and what makes us similar.  It’s just not history, heritage, language, religion, or even culture. It really is anything about the past, the present, and the future and where our similarities and differences are leading us. It is the people, places, and ideas that shape our society. It is the story of us!