With NEH support, Humanities Nebraska has been bringing Nebraska Chautauqua to communities across the state for the past 30 years. Taking a different theme every three or four years, Humanities Nebraska develops a range of public programming for each Chautauqua, including speakers, performances, and a camp for teenagers. Since 2004, the NEH has provided direct funding for Nebraska Chautauqua, including recent Chautauquas themed around the Homestead Act’s 150th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of World War I.
“The whole idea is to provide an educational experience that is immersive and also has an entertainment component.”
Nebraska Chautauqua brings its rich historical programming to two different communities each summer, focusing primarily on the many rural communities that lack the access to humanities programming provided by cities like Lincoln and Omaha. Over the course of a week, scholars-in-residence act as a catalyst for discussion around the central theme. According to Kristi Hayek Carley, who directs the program, “the whole idea is to provide an educational experience that is immersive and also has an entertainment component. Together, we hope to introduce the public to ideas and topics that they have perhaps not explored fully and help them make connections with related topics that are out there.”
During a recent Chautauqua in Seward, Nebraska, scholars took on the roles of Jane Addams, Woodrow Wilson, William Jennings Bryan, Edith Wharton, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Adults attended workshops on World War I weaponry and medicine, while middle-schoolers researched the impact World War I had on their town before performing biographical sketches on stage. In preparation for the program, local planning committees research the history of the town and tailor the program for their community. In Seward, a corresponding exhibition at the Nebraska National Guard Museum displayed aviation and medical artifacts from the war. As Carley observed, “it’s always fun to visit each community, to see what kind of spin they put on the topics and the connections they make… All of the communities end up offering stories that perhaps would not have been unearthed otherwise.”