Humanities Kansas recently awarded $10,000 to the Bowlus Fine Arts Center to support “Taking Southeast Kansas History Online.”
The project involves building a digital map of southeast Kansas historical sites, specifically in Allen and Woodson counties, with clickable links that reveal in-depth stories, photographs and interviews connected to each location.
Tim Stauffer of the Iola Register will serve as project director, and Trevor Hoag of the Iola Register and Donna Houser of the Allen County Historical Society will serve as project scholars.
Other key parties include Kurtis Russell, director of the Allen County Historical Society and Jonathan Wells, Allen Community College instructor and mayor of Iola.
The impetus for the project grew out of positive feedback gleaned in response to Hoag’s column “Just Prairie,” which until recently focused on places of interest in Woodson County.
As the column’s scope grows to include sites in Allen County, the project director and scholars will work to share those stories as they simultaneously develop an online resource to promote tourism and education regarding the area.
Access to the website will be provided for free by the Iola Register, and will include additional content shared for free by local historical societies.
One of the primary goals of the project is to reach new audiences for historical information, including younger people as well as those who increasingly get their information online.
An additional goal is to encourage members of the Allen and Woodson County communities to share their stories with researchers so that they are preserved, as the project entails maintaining elements of both the distant and not-so-distant past.
ONCE the website’s content is in place, collaboration with local school districts will occur so that young people can learn more about the history of the area.
Jenna Higginbotham, curriculum director for USD 257, has agreed to work with Stauffer, a former educator, to develop content for social studies classrooms as well as activities such as field trips.
By targeting students early on, the project hopes to develop in students both a unique sense of identity and pride derived from living in and being connected to a specific place.
In time, students might even be able to contribute content to the site, or develop websites of their own with whatever content is important and exciting to them.
DONNA Houser said she thought a project like “Taking Southeast Kansas History Online” is important for a number of reasons.
“When I was a kid I hated history,” she said, “especially when it came to rote memorization of endless names and dates.”
By contrast, once she began to see beyond just facts, she learned that history is replete with engaging and exciting stories.
“I learned to like history when I saw it,” she said, and visited specific locations such that historical narratives began to “make sense.”
In general, Houser said having people learn about history is important because it teaches them “where they came from and where they’ve been.”
This is especially vital since it helps society not “make the same dumb mistakes.”
Daniel Kays of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center, the host of the project, is excited as well, especially since it dovetails nicely with the Bowlus’ new “Crossroads” exhibition in connection with the Smithsonian.
“Anything that draws attention to southeast Kansas” is something he’s happy to support, said Kays, especially when it has a tourism component that can boost the local economy.
“Anything we can do to enhance the culture of our community, that’s our mission,” he said.
REGARDING the grantors for the undertaking, “Humanities Kansas supports projects that use innovative means to tell stories of the state,” said Julie Mulvihill, Humanities Kansas executive director.
“Through articles and an interactive website, Kansans will have the opportunity to explore the history and culture of Woodson and Allen Counties.”
Humanities Kansas is an independent nonprofit spearheading a movement of ideas to empower the people of Kansas to strengthen their communities and democracy.
Since 1972, their pioneering programming, grants, and partnerships have documented and shared stories to spark conversations and generate insights.
Together with their partners and supporters, they inspire all Kansans to draw on history, literature, ethics and culture to enrich their lives and serve the communities and state we all proudly call home.
You can visit their website at humanitieskansas.org.