Archive for the ‘Political Science’ Category

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The humanities: It’s not about what they are; it’s what we do

November 16, 2009

Due to an overwelmingly positive response, we wanted to share the following article with you, which was published in a variety of newspapers throughout Indiana, including the Indianapolis Star on Nov. 4, under the headline “Get in touch with the humanities.”

By Keira Amstutz, president and CEO of the Indiana Humanities Council. 

Once, after a dance performance, Isadora Duncan was asked what the dance meant. Her response has become famous as a terse description of art’s purpose: “If I could tell you what it meant,” she said, “there would be no point in dancing it.”

In my role as president and CEO of the Indiana Humanities Council, I often find myself being asked, “What are the humanities?” And sometimes, like Isadora Duncan, I think it’d be easier to dance than answer the question.

Why? Because sometimes describing the humanities is like describing the wind – it’s easier to say what it does than what it is. It swirls leaves on an autumn sidewalk. It teases a little girl’s hair. It pulses through a wheat field like waves on a landlocked sea.

So, I thought I’d explain what the humanities are by explaining what you can do – and perhaps already do – in, through and with them every day.

I don’t pretend that this list is conclusive; I know it only scratches the surface. But I hope that it will, in its breadth and diversity, allow you to create – and, more important, put into action – your own definition of the humanities. So, let’s get started:

Read a novel. Read a poem. Read the directions on a shampoo bottle. Read the Declaration of Independence. Read a blog. Read an essay. Read a review of a book you’ll never read. Read a sacred text. Read your diary. Read to a kid. Read the liner notes to an old jazz album. Read the lyrics to a song you love. Read a libretto.

See a play with a friend. Go early. Wander through the theater. View the stage from different angles. Peruse the program. Learn about the actors. Watch the play. Study the set. Notice the lighting. Listen to reactions. Find a place to have coffee. Discuss the play. Go to another play. Repeat the process.

Visit a courtroom. Visit a classroom. Visit an old teacher. Visit a park. Visit a museum. Visit a library. Visit City Hall. Visit a college campus. Visit a craftsman’s workbench. Visit an artist’s studio.

Look at a piece of art. Study it. Step back. Look at the piece beside it. Ask yourself: Why are these pieces next to each other? Why is this art? Step back again. Ask yourself: Does the size of the room affect the way I look at the art? Step back again. How does seeing more change the way you see the art?

Listen to a band. Listen to a debate. Listen to a well-tuned machine. Listen to a podcast. Listen to a diner ordering dinner. Listen to a photographer describing a photo. Listen to an architect explaining a building’s design. 

Stop outside a building you pass every day; look at its design. Do you know the name for the architectural style? Do you like it? What appeals to you? What would you do differently? Get a book about architecture and learn about the style. Find other examples of that style and compare them. Find examples of other styles and compare them. Take a walk with a colleague and debate the architecture you see.

Attend a historic-home tour. Attend a lecture. Attend the symphony. Attend a gallery reception. Attend a festival. Attend a legislative session. Attend opening night (of anything). Attend a public forum.

Speak at a public forum. Sing in a choir. Yell “Bravo” at a concert. Ask a question. Tell someone your family’s history. Recite a poem. Describe a work of art. Say what you think.

Now, think about what you’ve done. You’ve examined, studied and reviewed something made by humans or something that makes us human. You’ve thought about it, pondered it and processed it. And you’ve talked about it, debated it and discussed it.

That’s what the humanities are.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Andrew’s take on Andrew

July 22, 2009

Written by Andrew Glaser. Andrew is a junior majoring in finance at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. This is his second summer working for the Indiana Humanities Council.

I find few presidents to be quite as interesting as Andrew Jackson. Apparently you have to do quite a lot to get your face on the 20 dollar bill. Those acts include:

  • Refusing to shine a Redcoat’s boots at the age of 14 and being slashed with a sword for your defiance
  • Allowing an opponent in a duel to shoot at you first, killing him after that, and carrying the bullet that hit you in your arm for the rest of your life
  • Beating with your walking stick a would-be assassin whose pistols both mysteriously failed to fire

Joking aside, great presidents tend to be remembered and glorified as larger-than-life, but Jackson was a flawed—and contradictory—man. Though he adopted a Native American orphan to raise as his own (the boy died only a few years later), he was a staunch champion of the removal of Native Americans from their tribal lands, arguing that “red” and “white” people could not coexist in proximity. But, as author Jon Meacham insightfully reminds us, “not all great presidents were always good, and neither individuals nor nations are without evil.”

Meacham’s biography of Andrew Jackson, American Lion, explores the fascinating life of our seventh president, whose views about the presidency still shape the balance of power among the three branches of the federal government. Hate the spoils system? Blame Andy Jackson. Love the president’s power to veto anything he doesn’t like? Thank Andy Jackson.

This isn’t the first biography of Andrew Jackson, but it’s easily the best and most readable, probably because it focuses primarily on his White House years. (Take it from me—I couldn’t even finish the last AJ biography I read. I can only read so much of 18th century Tennessee political life.)

It’s a must read for any history buff—or any aging man seeking inspiration and/or a reminder that 70-something-year-olds can still pack quite a wallop with a well placed cane hit.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: All the King’s Men

June 10, 2009

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at Indiana Humanities Council

Somehow, I escaped college and high school without reading many of the classics—a feat I thoroughly enjoyed at the time, but one that I now regret. So, I am constantly trying to weave in a few of those with my ever-expanding list of “new” novels. My current classic is the Pulitzer Prize-winning “All the King’s Men,” by Robert Penn Warren.

Set in the South during the 1930s, the story follows the rise and fall of Willie Stark—a farm boy turned governor, narrated by Jack Burden, Willie’s right-hand man. What I love most about this book is not it’s overarching themes—original sin, responsibility, love, hatred, etc.,–it’s that each sentence Warren writes is ripe with imagery—whether it’s Willie’s stump speech, an apartment building or his mother’s demeanor towards men.

Willie Stark is bigger than life–so big, in fact, he has to be fiction. Or is he? Some say he’s patterned after politician Huey Long, and we can all pull a few traits out of ol’ Willie that have infected even our favorite politicians. But what about Jack Burden? Anne Stanton? Like any good novel, the characters are bursting with fictional and non-fictional experiences, choices and thoughts.

There are many classics that I avoid reading, some for sheer length, but this should not be one of them. “All the King’s Men,” is a great, timeless novel that offers a one-of-a-kind glimpse into 1920s and 1930s politics in the South. History? Check. Poetry? Literature? Check, check. Politics and law? Check, check. Entertainment? CHECK.

Does Warren present an accurate portrayal of what you think  politics were like in the South during the 20s and 30s? Why should we continue to read about fictional politics from the past?

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What-Are-You-Reading-Wednesday

June 3, 2009

In this weekly series, we’ll touch base with Council staff members, board members and friends to discover what book is on their nightstand. This week, intern Christian Hines catches up with Orwell.

As a student of the English language and literary tradition, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m just now getting around to 1984. I’ve read my Bradbury, I’ve read my Huxley, and I even made it through Ayn Rand’s tirade at the end of Anthem. But not having read 1984 is akin to being on the outside of an inside joke. So much of Orwell’s phraseology like “Newspeak” or “Doublethink,” and even the adjective “Orwellian,” have assimilated into the English vernacular. Even a scant familiarity with figures like Big Brother functions as a sort of cultural currency in American society. 

Though I’ve only completed roughly 70 percent of the novel, Orwell’s frightening vision strikes me not so much for its political, but for its historic import. It is not necessarily the story’s plot, but the story’s mood, that has left an indelible impression upon the literary world. The book was published only four years after the close of World War II, right as the Cold War embers were beginning to glow. And though Orwell creates a terrifying villain in the government of Oceania, there is still an element of satire and humor to the work.  The Capitalists, according to the government’s history textbooks, were barbaric industrialists who created monopolies, suppressed the poor, and always wore top-hats. Like all humor, there is truth in such a depiction, and Orwell recognized that one need not abstain from poking fun at the propaganda of radical politics even as it destroys a society. 

Despite Orwell’s subtle humor, 1984’s influence has persisted because of its prophetic critique of radicalism and authoritarian intervention. Perhaps I’m too young to really be frightened by his vision, but I still recognize the biting accusation against the pattern of political and societal revolution which, in this case, led to the dystopian world of 1984. The paradox, of course, is that it takes a revolution to undo a revolution.  “If there is hope,” Winston mutters, “it is in the proles” (short for Proletariat). Though society produced a monster in its discontent, it is discontent, once again, which must overturn the beast. Orwell’s most prominent work, therefore, is not only an admonition against a certain type of government, but against the excess, folly, and capricious passion of the masses.

Have you read 1984? If so, what book should I check out next? And, if you haven’t, what’s stopping you from pulling the book off the shelf?

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Friday Blincoln Blog

October 3, 2008

It’s been awhile since I’ve put together a Blincoln Blog, which is a real shame because I took a pretty great picture of a Lincoln statue here in Indianapolis which would make great eye candy (iCandy?) if I’d ever find the time to research it a little bit (er…a “great picture” by took-it-with-my-cellphone standards).

But today I have something better.

The Indiana Humanities Council has been working with the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission on putting together One State, One Story, encouraging teachers, students and everybody else to try to read one book on Lincoln this year. As part of the effort the IHC designed some eye-catching bookmarks which are going/have gone out to all the schools in the state. The front is a simple design while the back has a list…

Why am I explaining it to you? You can just go here to see them. This Living Resource is a pretty great one-stop shopping experience for those wishing wishing to educate young Hoosiers on the life and times of our 16th (and perhaps greatest) president. (Apologies for the editorializing.)

Anyway, I guess I spoiled the surprise. The whole post is intended to 1) get you thinking about Lincoln, because that’s never a waste of time and 2) to direct you to this great resource from the IDOE, the Indiana Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and us.

Have a great weekend all!

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Technology, History, Politics

September 4, 2008

Last Friday Mills over at edwired ran a nice post that blends technology, politics, history, and personal narrative wherein, among other things he asks: 

These days, the pressure to be able to hit “send” first is so great that the new deadline is five seconds ago, not before the press has to start running or before the 11:00 newscast. What does this immediacy do to the quality of reporting? What does it mean for the way the public interacts with that information? Does the first take become the take? These are all questions historians of politics will be asking themselves in the coming decades.

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Meandering Indiana – 7

August 28, 2008

We need to thank our alert friends at Inside INdiana Business for pointing out this piece from WISH-TV8: Shoe Thefts Puzzle Small Town. The story of a beagle, a firehouse, and a crime spree in Waveland, Indiana, needs to be read in its entirety, yet we are thereby reminded that in Waveland people still have porches and they still leave shoes on them. Foolishly.

However, this tale jogged my memory about the next county I’d like to revisit virtually – Montgomery County. The county seat, Crawfordsville, is probably best known as the setting for Wabash College, “A Liberal Arts College for Men,” as its home page declares. Passing over the reasons why this institution still refuses to admit women (about which I have no clue), I will pause instead to recognize a past Indiana Humanities Council chair, Don Herring, who taught at Wabash and brought his love of literature to his work with us. Let me also give a nod to our friends at the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum who do wonderful work there.

Yes, Montgomery County is an amazingly rich spot for the humanities, but I have to admit that for sheer remarkableness, it’s hard to beat the Old Jail Museum. This structure is a two-tier cylindrical block of wedge-shaped cells that rotates to allow prisoners in and out of the only opening. I actually saw its mechanism demonstrated once, and it is beyond bizarre. It was only later that I learned about the Panopticon, a prison structure built for covert surveillance and popularized by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish. The Old Jail is different from a panopticon, but it too is chilling in an Orwellian way.

Whew, I feel like I just did six degrees of Hoosier associations to get from beagles and front porches to paranoid French intellectuals. Small town Indiana — it’s quite surprising once you get to know it.

This entry was posted by: Nancy

Posted Aug. 28, 2008