Focus on the Humanities
Mississippi Humanities Council Newsletter - January 2016
Director's Message
Dr. Stuart Rockoff
Executive Director
Historians usually prefer a few decades of distance before passing judgement on a particular time period, but I think it's safe to say that these are challenging times. The country is extremely polarized politically, and judging by the toxic rhetoric of the presidential race, this will likely not improve between now and November. Americans have been unsettled by violent attacks from political and religious extremists whose ideology challenges the core principle of our democratic republic that political conflicts be worked out through civil debate and the ballot box.

While there is no easy solution to this situation, an article I recently read makes a provocative and interesting argument about how to weaken extremism: study the humanities. Researchers and policy experts in England have been wrestling with a startling discovery: on the whole, jihadis are extremely well educated. One study in 2007 found that almost half of jihadis from the Middle East and North Africa had college degrees (by way of comparison, only 32% of Mississippians have a college degree) But among jihadis, most commonly their degrees were in scientific and technical fields, especially engineering. According to a recent news report, ISIL has removed several humanities subjects from school curricula in areas it controls. Increasing access to higher education is clearly not the solution to the problem of religious and political extremism, but perhaps widening the course of study is.

Martin Rose, a British researcher, warns against making simplistic arguments with this data, and he does not suggest that STEM breeds terrorists. Rather, Rose makes the interesting point that academic subjects that provide clear answers and discourage fundamental questions or alternative points of view can lead to ideologies and worldviews that do the same thing. He recommends exposing STEM students to humanities subjects and to activities like debate that foster critical thinking skills. He argues that "young people need to be taught how to think to immunize their minds against ideologies that seek to teach them what to think."

The humanities teach us there is no easy solution, either to global terrorism or the social, economic, and political challenges we face here in Mississippi. Facing such a messy reality, it's not surprising that some are drawn to simplistic answers, such as electing one person can "make America great again."

My love of history ignited in high school once our class moved beyond the simple memorization of facts to consider the less concrete but more interesting issues like meaning and significance. Not just the what, but the why. The humanities are about nuance and complexity. One of the things I realized in graduate school was that the more I learned about American history, the more I realized how much I didn't know. I am now wary of people who claim to know everything. A group of political scientists at the University of Illinois have recently found that citizens who hold false beliefs about political issues (whom they call the "misinformed") tend to be the most confident in their views and the most extreme partisans.

The humanities teach us there is no easy solution, either to global terrorism or the social, economic, and political challenges we face here in Mississippi. Facing such a messy reality, it's not surprising that some are drawn to simplistic answers, such as electing one person can "make America great again."  Instead, we would be better off embracing the lessons of the humanities, to think critically and seek to understand other's perspectives and experiences. Intellectual humility, grounded in a deep understanding of the humanities, is central to a healthy democracy.

For more than four decades now, the Mississippi Humanities Council has advocated for these important lessons. In 2016, it is more crucial than ever that we embrace the nuance of the humanities - the future of our state and our country may well depend on it.
The Mississippi Humanities Council invites all Mississippians to join us at our 2016 Public Humanities Awards ceremony and reception February 12 at 5:30 p.m. at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson. A silent auction featuring Mississippi Miscellany will once again be featured.

Tickets for the Mississippi Humanities Council Public Humanities Awards ceremony and reception are $50 each and may be purchased by sending a check to the Mississippi Humanities Council, 3825 Ridgewood Road, Room 317, Jackson, MS 39211 or  online. Information about the awards and the reception is available at on our  website or 601-432-6752.

Recipients of the 2016 Public Humanities Awards, which recognize outstanding contributions by Mississippians to the study and understanding of the humanities, include :

Cora Norman Award--Willis Lott, Past board chair, Mississippi Humanities Council, Hattiesburg, MS

Preserver of Mississippi Culture--Alysia Burton Steele, Author, Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother's Wisdom, Oxford, MS

Humanities Partner Award--New Stage Theatre, Jackson, MS

Humanities Scholar Award--Max Grivno, Associate Professor of History, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS

Humanities Educator Award--Louis Bourgeois, Founder, Mississippi Prison Writes, Oxford, MS

Thirty-one recipients of the 2015 Humanities Teacher Awards, which pay tribute to outstanding faculty in traditional humanities fields, will also be honored at the event.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious award in journalism, the Mississippi Humanities Council will join the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park Campus in hosting several Pulitzer Prize winners for a panel discussion Jan. 21 at 5 p.m. in the Hardy Hall Ballroom.

The free program is part of a series entitled "The Pulitzer Prize and Mississippi Journalism," presented by the Mississippi Humanities Council in partnership with the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi and the Pulitzer Board.

The session, entitled "The Pulitzer Prize in Mississippi: Responding to Natural Disasters," will feature Stan Tiner, former editor of the Sun Herald-winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina; Natasha Trethewey, Gulfport native-winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and 2012-14 United States Poet Laureate; and Charlie Mitchell, professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and former editor of the The Vicksburg Post, which won a Pulitzer in 1954 for its coverage after a devastating tornado.

Charles Overby, former executive editor of the  The Clarion-Ledger, which won a Pulitzer for its coverage of education reform in 1983, and former director of the Newseum in Washington, D.C., will moderate the discussion, which will be followed by a reception.

The panel discussion, which is free and open to the public, is the first event in a series of Pulitzer Campfire Initiative programs planned for Mississippi in 2016. To mark the centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes, the Pulitzer Board announced the Campfires Initiative, which aims to ignite broad engagement with the journalistic, literary, and artistic values the Prizes represent.

With support from a Mississippi Humanities Council grant, the 2016 Oxford Film Festival will host a panel discussion on the history of craft and artisan products and the reemergence of the culture throughout the state. Panelists will explore the parallels between several local craft businesses and how their history, traditions, and stories shaped their paths.

The Oxford Film Festival runs February 17-21, with the craft industry panel dicussion scheduled for Saturday, February 20, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Oxford Conference Center, 102 Ed Perry Boulevard, Oxford. The program will also feature four short documentaries made by Blue Magnolia Films that each feature craft businesses whose ventures are impacted by their history: Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, Yalobusha Brewery, Johnson Benjamin Bag Company and Blue Delta Jean Company.

The panel, moderated by Malcolm White, will include representatives from each of the four featured craft businesses, Alison Fast of Blue Magnolia Films, Mickey Howley of Main Street Mississippi and Jodi Skipper, assistant professor of anthropology and southern studies at the University of Mississippi.


Tour dates and host sites have now been determined for "Hometown Teams," the next MHC-sponsored Smithsonian traveling exhibit. "Hometown Teams" is a three-dimensional exhibit examining how sports have shaped American culture and identity. Free-standing exhibit sections utilize a variety of artifacts, images, video and audio, and hands-on interactives to elucidate this All American theme. The exhibit will kick-off at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in Jackson March 18, traveling to the Historic Natchez Foundation in Natchez beginning in early May and then continuing to Amory, Gulfport and Cleveland at six-week intervals before arriving in Corinth in mid-November and then returning to the Smithsonian at the beginning of 2017. Exact locations and dates will be reported in next month's newsletter. 

We are pleased to announce that Caroline Gillespie will become a program officer for the MHC. Caroline has been with the Council for a year-and-a-half, working as an executive assistant. In addition to managing our office operations, Caroline has helped oversee our successful "Telling Project" program. In her new position, Caroline will continue to manage our Standing Together veterans initiative, as well as running our Prime Time and LuciƩrnagas family reading programs. She will also help coordinate our Museum on Main Street program, including this year's Hometown Teams exhibit.

"I couldn't be more excited to have Caroline move into a programming position," said MHC Executive Director Stuart Rockoff. "During her time here, I have been impressed by her focus, creativity, and dedication to the humanities. I look forward to working with her on some new initiatives in addition to the vital reading and traveling exhibit programs."

David Morgan, who has been special projects director for over eleven years, will be moving to Bay St. Louis in mid-January. He will continue to work part-time with the MHC, overseeing our family reading programs in south Mississippi, and helping to coordinate the statewide tour of our traveling Smithsonian exhibit Hometown Teams. "I am so pleased that David will be continuing his work for the Council, increasing our presence on the Gulf Coast," Rockoff said. "David's incredible passion for his work has helped spread the impact of the Council throughout the state."  Although he will be on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, David can still be reached at
Family reading programs are currently being planned for 2016 with "Prime Time" sessions already scheduled for Clarksdale, Perkinston, Ocean Springs, and Petal. Storytellers, discussion leaders, and site coordinators for several of these sites will be attending a training workshop with the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities in mid-January. All of these programs will receive financial support from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities via a Shell Oil grant.
January 29, 2016
Philosophical Fridays: Dr. Eric Thomas Weber
The University of Southern Mississippi's Philosophical Fridays program will continue this spring with a new roster of speakers and topics.  The January 29 program will feature Dr. Eric Thomas Weber, associate professor of public policy at the University of Mississippi. His program is titled "Uniting Mississippi: Ethics and Leadership in the South."  The presentation will be followed by a question and answer session with the audience.
January 31, 2016
Wells Church Presents Oral History Project
Wells United Methodist Church will present "Everyone Very Welcome: An Evening With the Wells Oral History Project" at 6 p.m. The program will be moderated by Jill Conner Browne and will feature Keith Tonkel, Bettye Quinn, John Garner and Jackie McGinnis, along with audio clips from oral histories that Wells's oral history project has already completed. The program will also include music by Jackie McGinnis and Raphael Semmes.

February 19, 2016
Oxford Film Festival Leads Discussion on Craft Industry in Mississippi
As part of its annual program, the Oxford Film Festival will host a panel discussion on the history of craft and artisan products and the reemergence of the culture throughout the state. Panelists will explore the parallels between several local craft businesses and how their history, traditions, and stories shaped their paths.
  Learn More 

February 25, 2016
New Hope Baptist Church Celebrates Black History Month
New Hope Baptist Church will host "Back in the Day," an annual program that celebrates Black History Month. This year's program will feature filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, producer of the documentary film The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. In addition a talk by Beauchamp, the program will also include the viewing of a condensed version of the film.

February 26-27, 2016
27th Annual Natchez Literary & Cinema Celebration

The Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration is a time honored tradition in the Mississippi, with a well-deserved reputation as one of the state's "most significant annual conference[s] devoted to literature, history, film, and culture." The theme, "Natchez at 300: A River Runs By It," serves in conjunction with the city's year-long Tricentennial celebration and will celebrate the literary, historical, and cultural heritage of Natchez and the Mississippi River through scholarly and popular lectures and discussions.

February 29-March 5, 2016
MSU Hosts Writer in Residence Dorothy Allison
The College of Arts & Sciences Institute for the Humanities at Mississippi State University will host a week-long writer in residence program with critically-acclaimed author Dorothy Allison. During her visit, Allison will read from her works and interact with members of the university and surrounding community. Events will include a public reading, as well as open office hours to discuss the craft of fiction with students and aspiring local writers.
Mississippi Humanities Council programs are engaging, inspiring and free of charge. Your gift makes a big difference to our mission of cultivating an understanding of our history and culture throughout the state. You help us enrich peoples' lives through programs incorporating history, literature, music, politics, philosophy and other humanities-based disciplines that illuminate the human condition. Thanks to your support, we are able to serve all Mississippians: all ages, all geographic areas of the state, all walks of life.
A small gift of $25 will purchase two books for children participating in the Mississippi Humanities Council's Family Literacy Project.
A larger gift of $250 will fund a lecture in a school classroom, local library or civic club, by a member of the Mississippi Humanities Council Speakers Bureau.
A $2,500 contribution will underwrite a six-week reading and discussion series in the Mississippi Humanities Council's Family Literacy Project.

A gift of any amount can support any one of our ongoing programs (click on the program titles for more information):  
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Stuart Rockoff, Executive Director