Director's Message


The Humanities Behind the Data

Ever since I was in graduate school, I’ve been a census nerd. I used the U.S. Census extensively in my dissertation research. I even purchased reels of census microfilm I read on my own rickety hand-cranked reader I kept on our dining room table. Anyone who has done genealogy research knows about the wealth of information contained within the decennial census.

Over the holiday break, I read a fascinating book Democracy’s Data: The Hidden Stories in the U.S. Census and How to Read Them by Dan Bouk. Bouk brings a historian’s eye to the 1940 census, explaining how and why specific questions got added to the census and how they were often politically contested. He shows how the categories the Census Bureau used to define people were also a product of their time and even geopolitics – the Mexican government pushed hard to have Mexican-Americans classified as white in the census! Most of all, Bouk taught me to understand that the data in the census was the result of a series of human encounters between the census takers and Americans, with all of the complexities that shape any human interaction playing an invisible part in the answers the census worker recorded. Bouk’s ultimate argument is that there are rich stories embedded in and sometimes obscured by the data.

This idea particularly resonated with me as the MHC staff is busy working this month on our annual Activities and Outcomes Report for the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to opportunities to write about the highlights of our work in 2022, the report asks us to tally the total number of people who attended or viewed MHC-funded programs and the number of scholars who were involved in them, among many other statistics. While the effort to collect this data is time-consuming, by adding it to the numbers produced by every other state humanities council, we can show the reach and impact of our collective work.

Compelling stories can often convey the impact of our work much more than statistics. As with the U.S. Census, there are incredible stories buried within the program data we will share this month. 

Yet for me, the most compelling part of our work is the stories. I could tell you how many men at South Mississippi Correctional Institution participated in our Prison Book Club program, but I remember the club participant who compared the ghost in Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing to an incarcerated person, since he was invisible to most people and had to find someone who could see him and hear his story. I remember the 102-year-old woman in Benton County who thanked the leaders of the “Hill Country Project” for their efforts to document the local civil rights movement, which took place far removed from the national spotlight. I recall the excitement people in New Albany felt when they saw the story of their town’s historic Black school told in an exhibit at the Union County Heritage Museum. The exhibit, along with the historical marker dedicated the day before, communicated that the story of the B.F. Ford School, their school, was an important part of New Albany’s history.

Each of these stories reflect what I like to call “goosebump moments,” and I’m proud the Mississippi Humanities Council helped make these projects happen. Compelling stories can often convey the impact of our work much more than statistics. As with the U.S. Census, there are incredible stories buried within the program data we will share this month. Hopefully you'll find new “goosebump moments” in this month's newsletter.


2023 Public Humanities Award Tickets on Sale Now

Mark your calendars because the Mississippi Humanities Council's Public Humanities Awards is just around the corner! The awards ceremony will be held March 24, 2023 at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson. Reception begins at 5:30 p.m.

This year, we're honoring some truly remarkable individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to the field of public humanities in our great state of Mississippi. From education to scholarship, programming to community engagement, these awardees truly embody the spirit of humanities.

The Public Humanities Awards Dinner is a night you don't want to miss. So, go ahead, save the date – March 24, 2023. Trust us, you won't regret it! Tickets can be purchased here. We can't wait to celebrate with you!

MCHEP Seeks First Director

The Mississippi Consortium for Higher Education in Prison (MCHEP) is seeking its first director. Dedicated to expanding and promoting quality postsecondary education opportunities for students in prison, MCHEP was founded by the Mississippi Humanities Council, Institutions of Higher Learning, Mississippi Community College Board and the Woodward Hines Education Foundation. The full-time director’s position is funded for three years through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Director will work to strengthen, expand, and develop a strategic vision for the consortium with direction and support of the Steering Committee. More information about the position is available on the Woodward Hines website. Applications will be accepted through January 31, 2023.

MHC Increases Major Grant Maximum to $10,000

The Mississippi Humanities Council has increased the upper limit for its major grants from $7,500 to $10,000, effective May 1. Major grant proposals are accepted annually on May 1 and September 15.

The MHC grants program supports projects that stimulate meaningful community dialogue, attract diverse audiences, are participatory and engaging, and apply the humanities to our everyday lives. Grants may be used to support public humanities programs, exhibits, the planning of larger projects, and the development of original productions in film, television, radio or online resources. The Council also offers special grants to support oral history projects around the state.

Applicants are encouraged to contact Carol Andersen before submitting project drafts. For more information about MHC grants, please visit our website.

Exploring Great Stories by Chauncey Spears

From December 2022 through January 2023, Chauncey Spears served as discussion leader for a book club at the Youthful Offenders Unit at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl. Utilizing the American Library Association's "Great Stories Club," young men, ages 16-18, gathered weekly with Spears to read and discuss the various themes of the humanities based young adult novels.

Reading books allows for the mind to travel where the body cannot. The Great Stories Club provides an opportunity for readers to expand their minds and explore issues that they may have not thought much about. During December 2022 and January 2023, 12 young men who are sentenced as adults in the Youthful Offender Unit at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility participated in the program and really embraced the opportunity to explore themes of empathy, justice, and poverty. Considering their current reality, these young men were quite enthusiastic, engaged, and mindful of the experience of reading and reflecting on their lives and life as young men in Mississippi.

We read three books, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Flight by Sherman Alexie, and Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman. One theme that the young men repeatedly cited was the sense that they are misunderstood or completely ignored by authority figures in their lives. One discussion question for All American Boys resonated with the young men. The question centered on being “seen” or considered by others. Several young men noted the challenges with feeling important to others or feeling like they mattered to most adults in their communities. The plot of the book consists of a young black man being assaulted by a police officer in a store because the store clerk assumed that he was stealing a beer. The sentiment of being stereotyped led to a great discussion. Both Flight and Stuck in Neutral connected with many of the young men because of the sense of suspect family connections. The main character in both had either non-existent or suspect relationships with their fathers. Many of the young men could relate to the uncertainty and self-doubt associated with a missing father in their lives. 

The young men also journalled about the books and about their time in the facility. One of the most enjoyable times was when the young men who wrote rap songs would recite them, with others singing along, revealing how close they had grown while incarcerated.

I enjoy helping young people develop literacy skills that translate into a joy of reading and learning. I like to hope that higher literacy would help them make more informed choices about their time, bodies, and relationships.

Participating in the Great Stories Club reinforced in me the power of stories to engage the mind and imagination to help better understand reality and society. I look forward to continuing the program and helping more young people to travel and imagine more widely than they had previously. 

Submit Your Community's Mississippi Freedom Trail Marker

Do you know of a Civil Rights story that should be enshrined with a historical marker? If so, submit an application to help your community join the growing Mississippi Freedom Trail! The MFT scholars committee has approved two new marker additions to the trail; commemorating Fannie Lou Hamer’s arrest and beating in Winona and the 1927 Flood’s impact on Greenville’s African American community. Thanks to Visit Mississippi, all markers approved in 2023 will be installed free of charge. The deadline for applications is March 31, 2023. Application can be found here.

'Voices and Votes' Departs Mississippi; New Host Sites Prepare for 'Crossroads'

The Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibit Voices and Votes: Democracy in America left Mississippi this week after its 10-month tour in the Magnolia State. While here, the exhibit was on display in Hattiesburg, Utica, Booneville, Pascagoula, Natchez, and Vicksburg.

Each community hosted a series of free public programs in conjunction with Voices and Votes including protest fashion shows, public forums with elected officials, and presentations from state scholar Dr. Rebecca Tuuri on Mississippi's complicated history with voting access.

"I think there’s probably not a more important time to be looking at democracy," said Hattiesburg project director Sean Farrell. "Not just stuff that’s going on in our country, but all over the world … so it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.”

In August, the Smithsonian traveling exhibit Crossroads: Change in Rural America will arrive in Mississippi for its second tour. This tour of Crossroads, generously sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority, will visit six Mississippi communities from August 2023 through June 2024, including Brookhaven, Marks, Pontotoc, Rolling Fork, West Point, and Wiggins. 

“We are thrilled to bring Crossroads back to Mississippi for the second time due to popular demand,” said MHC program officer and Crossroads state coordinator Molly McMillan. “As one of the most rural states in the U.S., the themes of the exhibition resonate with these six new host sites and Mississippi in general." Learn more about Crossroads and its 2023-2024 Mississippi tour here.

'Ideas on Tap' Program Explores Banned Books from Student Perspective

As debates about book banning in Mississippi public schools continue, student panelists offered up their perspectives at our most recent Ideas on Tap gathering. Often sidelined in the public discussion, the students were eager to add their voices to the conversation. We appreciate our panelists: Julia James of Mississippi Today, Tonja Murphy from the Mississippi Book Festival, and students JohnAnna Esters, Marina Goupalova, and Adam Maatallah. If you were not able to see our program in person, a recording can be found here on our Facebook page.

Humanities Teacher Award Lectures Around the State


Humanities Teacher Award lectures continue throughout the state in February. One outstanding humanities educator at each of the state's institutions for higher learning is selected each year for this award, which includes a cash award and special recognition at the Mississippi Humanities Council's annual awards gala in March. These lectures offer Mississippians a unique experience to hear scholarly presentations on a wide range of humanities subjects.


Upcoming lectures include:

Feb. 2: Tim Morris, Jones College, "Consciousness and Contentment in The Epic of Gilgamesh"

Feb. 8: Dr. Sharelle Grim, Mississippi Delta Community College, "When They See Us: The Experiences of Black Community College Faculty"

Feb. 15: Dr. Justin Krueger, Delta State University, "Monuments: Who Cares and Why?"

Feb. 16: Dr. Anisi Daniels, Rust College, "Meet Me at the Crossroad: The Intersection of Social Justice with Racial and Religious Identities"

Feb. 20: Elizabeth Carole Spencer, University of Mississippi, "The Mentor as Cartographer: Seeing Harold Fisk’s Meander Maps as Metaphor"

Feb. 21: Benjamin Ivey, Mississippi College, "Stripped: How Design Goes Beyond the Surface"

Feb. 22: Jacob Hood, Holmes Community College, "Reframing and Understanding Conflict"

Feb. 28: Dr. Lemondra Hamilton, Tougaloo College, "Blues in Conversation with Gospel: Two Sides of the Same Musical Coin"


For more information on these and other upcoming lectures, please visit our website calendar.

USM Program Series to Explore Native American Traditions with Indigenous Plants, Shells and Soil

The University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for American Indian Research and Studies will host a four-part series of public lectures and demonstrations exploring how Native Ancestors across the southeast used native plants, shells and soils in their daily lives. The program series, entitled “Yakni Achukma, Okla Achukma (Healthy Land, Healthy People),” is supported with a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council and will take place at the Southern Miss Medicine Wheel Garden located on the USM campus.

"Native Ancestors from the southeast adorned themselves with shells and shell carvings, created beautiful pigments with plans, clay and ochres, wove plant fibers for baskets, clothing, ties, fishing lines and nets, and treated themselves and their families and communities with plant medicines,” says Dr. Tammy Greer, director of the USM Center for American Indian Research and Studies (CAIRS). “Our coastal and inland habitats provided all that was needed for indigenous ancestors of this place. Much of that knowledge is sleeping in this age of cell phones, craft stores and pharmacies. But there are pockets where this knowledge is wide awake and thriving. It is our intention to bring forth this knowledge into a public place so that everyone can recall, remember and awaken their connections to this place through the offerings of our place-based natural world.”

The lecture and demonstrations series begins Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. the Southern Miss Medicine Wheel Garden located on the USM campus near the Liberal Arts Building. Jeanette Stone, a retired educator with 20 years of expertise experimenting with natural fibers, will discuss “Plant-Based Cordage and Fibers.” Her presentation will explore techniques of the Southeastern Muskogean communities for using plant materials such as yucca and palmetto plant leaves, cattails, tree bark and Spanish moss to create ropes for fishing nets, as well as for crafting clothing, belts, moccasins and more.

The lecture and demonstration series is free and open to the public. Future program topics will include shell carving, medicine making and creating pigments from plants.

Upcoming MHC-Sponsored Events

Housing Insecurity in Mississippi Exhibition

November 1 – January 31

Margaret Walker Center, Jackson, MS

This exhibition displays work from a project out of the Mississippi State University School of Architecture. It collects narratives and documents the lived spaces of individuals and communities that have experienced, are experiencing, or are working to relieve housing insecurity and evictions in Mississippi.


Learn More


What We Can Learn from Dr. A.B. Holder

January 26, 7:00pm

Mississippi College, Clinton, MS

Mississippi College presents a series of talks entitled, “What We Can Learn From _____.” This talk features 19th-century Mississippi physician A.B. Holder presented by Dr. Courtney Thompson of Mississippi State University. Following the talk, there will be a reception with live music by the MC Brass Ensemble.


Learn More


“Inaugural Ballers” Event with Andrew Maraniss

February 8, 5:00pm

Lemuria Book Store, Jackson, MS

Event with Andrew Maraniss: Inaugural Ballers. The True Story of the First U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Team” From the New York Times bestselling author of Strong Inside comes the inspirational true story of the birth of women’s Olympic basketball at the 1976 Summer Games and the ragtag team that put US women’s basketball on the map, featuring Mississippi legend Lusia Harris.


Learn More


Mississippi Founders Exhibit & Keynote Lecture

February 9, 7:00pm

Mississippi College, Clinton, MS

Throughout February, the "Mississippi Founders" exhibit will be on display at the Leland Speed library at Mississippi College. On February 9, Dr. Kellie Cherie Carter Jackson of Wellesley College will present the keynote lecture, pulling from her book Force and Freedom, which analyzes the history of black abolitionism, as well as forthcoming book project on black response to white violence.


Learn More

Jackson Book Festival

February 11, 12:00pm

Jackson Medical Mall, Jackson, MS

The 2023 Jackson Book Fair will host book talks, book sales and signings, art/craft vendors, live entertainment, with a Black history theme.


Learn More


The Natchez Deacons for Defense

February 11, 2:00pm

Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Natchez, MS

For the first time in Natchez history, a play will be held to tell the story of the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Natchez, and their role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It is set for 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 11, at Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church at 607 Madison St.


Learn More


Natchez Literary & Cinema Celebration

February 24 – February 25

Natchez Convention Center, Natchez, MS

This annual literary celebration, which began in 1990, is a theme-based lecture series enhanced by films, workshops, exhibitions, book signings, concerts, discussions and more.


Learn More

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