In Columbus, Georgia, Columbus State University is helping communities connect with their culture and their surroundings. In Putnam County, Georgia, the University of Georgia is working with K-12 teachers and students to explore the region's rich literary history. On March 8, the scholars behind these and other publicly engaged humanities initiatives from across Georgia and the Southeast gathered for the Georgia Humanities Symposium in Athens.
We were delighted to have been invited to participate in this gathering, convened by the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Bringing the public humanities community together is one of our key objectives, and the symposium did just that. Nicholas Allen explained, “We wanted to bring together a community of people who were already active in the public humanities and already very successful, but who had never really been drawn together.” Kelly Caudle of Georgia Humanities echoed these sentiments: “It's so clear that we need to have a space where we can all come together and talk through our ideas and talk through the challenges of our projects and even inspire each other. It's so clear that this was needed and that we should make a habit of it.” We were also gratified to learn that our Humanities for All database was one tool the Willson Center used to identify participants for the Symposium.
The symposium was built around three panels featuring presentations on public humanities work across the region. The third and final panel, “Next Steps,” looked forward: What themes emerged throughout the day that might inform our strategies? In my own contribution to this final panel, I challenged participants to think about how their publicly engaged scholarship can help us all make the case for the broad public value of the humanities. Every project that was shared in Athens expands the number and range of people who have experienced and benefitted from the humanities. We encourage this work both for these reasons and to broaden narratives about the humanities. The University of Georgia’s collaboration in Putnam County doesn’t just benefit individual undergraduate students. It benefits whole communities, amplifying community voices and histories, expanding educational access by supporting K-12 teachers and students, and cultivating pride in the region’s cultural heritage. Convenings like the Georgia Humanities Symposium offer opportunities to do the humanities better and to make the case for the humanities better.
Thumbnail image: Columbus State University students and community members mark up a map of Marion County, Georgia, indicating places they believe should be highlighted in a heritage map. Photo by David Anderson. Image courtesy of Columbus State University Archives.