Letter from the Executive Director: We need the humanities now more than ever

Dear Friends, 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the health of our civic life, and I’m worried. Worried that we’re unable to hear each other’s concerns underneath the personal attacks. Worried that complex issues are being reduced to simplistic sound bites. And worried that we’re not treating our fellow Americans with empathy and respect – whether we agree with them politically or not.

What does New Hampshire Humanities do to improve our civic life? Lots, actually.

New Hampshire Humanities brings people together in their communities for face-to-face conversations about ideas that matter.

Our programs invite people to practice the skills of citizenship — to listen respectfully and engage thoughtfully with their neighbors.

And we offer residents the opportunity to contextualize contemporary issues, acknowledge their complexity, and consider differing points of view.

As you’ll see in this month’s Calendar, there are myriad opportunities to increase your knowledge, examine your beliefs, and converse with your neighbors at free public humanities programs around the state. For example, Steve Taylor’s talk on the state’s shameful history of poor houses and town farms is about much more than a specific period of New Hampshire history. In fact, Steve (in Meredith Sept. 6 and Ashland Sept. 13) offers a broad examination of societal attitudes about poverty. How do those attitudes influence our perceptions and our choices today?

And doesn’t everyone have an opinion on what the Founding Fathers really meant when they penned the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? On September 29 in Raymond, law professor Richard Hesse debunks some myths and explores the ways in which our founding documents have been interpreted over time.

The humanities can be personally transformational as well. In September, we begin discussion groups for veterans and active service members. Called Dialogues on the Experience of War, this initiative uses The Odyssey and contemporary readings to help veterans access, articulate, and understand their experience of war and homecoming. Meanwhile, nine libraries in the Seacoast area supported by a New Hampshire Humanities Community Project Grant host book discussions and dozens of related events where veterans and civilians can come together to listen, learn and talk, bridging what is too often a wide gulf.

Truly, we need the humanities now more than ever. I hope you’ll get out to some programs this month – they’re free and open to all. Of course, these programs aren’t free to produce. If you haven’t yet become a supporter or haven’t renewed your support this year, I urge you to do so before the end of our fiscal year on October 31.

Together, we can ensure that all Granite Staters have the opportunity to engage in the kind of interactions and reflection necessary to develop wisdom, trust, and connectedness. Join us!

Deborah Watrous, Executive Director