Innovations

The Missouri Humanities Council is committed to exploring new opportunities for making the humanities accessible and meaningful to diverse audiences though collaboration and innovation. Current special projects include:

Veterans’ Creative Writing Workshops

It is well established that self-expression through creative writing has considerable potential that can be useful in a variety of stressful and challenging situations, such as coping with PTSD or adjusting from life in the military back to civilian life. Because the armed forces and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are seeking additional resources to help provide special programs for personnel in transition and/or undergoing treatment at VA facilities, representatives of the VA and the U.S. Army in Missouri approached the Missouri Writers’ Guild for assistance in developing creative writing workshops for these men and women. The Writers’ Guild in turn approached MHC to partner in these efforts. We felt that it was important to assist in making these programs possible, in part because of the therapeutic benefits, but also because any written materials generated by our veterans  contributes to the documentation of the experiences and perspectives of individuals who have shaped our history through their military service.

In collaboration with the Occupational Therapy Unit of the Veterans Affairs medical facility at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, MHC and the Writers Guild initiated a cooperative effort to organize and present creative writing programs to serve Missouri veterans. A plan was developed for a pilot project involving a series of creative writing workshops in which the Writers’ Guild provided volunteer workshop leaders and mentors, the VA provided the space and communications and MHC provided laptops (mostly refurbished and/or donated).

The creative writing workshop pilot project, which commenced in August 2011 at the Jefferson Barracks VA facility, was successfully completed with 12 sessions addressing poetry, journaling, fiction and non-fiction, serving a combined total of 56 participants. Feedback was very positive, both from the veterans themselves and the VA staff and doctors at Jefferson Barracks. Building on this initial success, the partnership is continuing. The Writers’ Guild has spun off an independent non-profit organization, The Warriors Arts Alliance, to focus on maintaining and expanding the program. The success of the pilot series of workshops was such that the doctors on the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) unit at Jefferson Barracks are now recommending to their patients that they take part in the program. The next series of workshops began in February, 2012.

In addition to providing logistical support for the workshops, MHC is serving as an advisory and underwriting partner with the VA and the Warriors Arts Alliance in producing an anthology of writing by veterans and active military personnel. Funds raised by the sale of this volume, which will be published by Southeast Missouri State University in the fall of 2012, will be utilized in extending the creative writing workshop program around the state.

The Veterans’ Creative Writing Workshops Program is made possible in part by the Veterans United Foundation.

For more information about this collaborative effort, please visit the Warriors Arts Alliance website.

Online Immersive Learning Study Project

The virtual island of Rocca Sorrentina

In the last year, MHC found an opportunity to work with interested individuals and groups who are exploring the potential to use immersive learning projects in online “virtual worlds” to promote the humanities.  MHC staff, volunteers and humanities-based organizations have begun a project to collaborate with scholars, educators and researchers from a variety of locations and backgrounds, in organizing activities that will help us learn how new online learning opportunities can be developed and used.  These experiments with new didactic spaces and methodologies may prove to have special significance as people in state government are calling upon our institutions of higher learning to use technology to engage more students in new, cost effective ways.

With a generous donation from Dr. Kathy Spoehr and Dr. Luther Spoehr of Brown University, along with numerous smaller contributions of time and resources from a diverse community of supporters, MHC has acquired an “island” in Second Life, the longest-running and most successful three-dimensional online interactive platform or “virtual world.” Over the course of the last year, we have used that platform to conduct experiments with programming that focuses on society, the arts, and material culture of the 18th century.  A community has developed which every month organizes and presents an average of five public events such as moderated discussions on literature and history of the time period.  The “island,” environment, under the name “Rocca Sorrentina,”  features a recreation of an Enlightenment-era “cabinet of curiosities” (the precursor to the modern museum) and special elements such as a fencing interactive and a recreated sword cutler’s shop based upon information from Diderot’s Encyclopedia, and a Palladian-style villa.  This virtual space and its associated programmatic activities attract a diverse audience of between 600 to 800 individuals per month.  Special cooperative activities currently underway include a discussion series on the 18th century novel “Tristram Shandy” (jointly sponsored with the Alexandrian Free Library Consortium), and informal programs exploring poetry that would have been popular during the Enlightenment.

The virtual island of Rocca Sorrentina

The experience so far has been both cost-effective and rewarding, as it facilitates interaction between scholars and educators from Missouri with teachers and researchers from other parts of the US, as well as Canada, South America, Europe, Australia and Japan. Eventually, we hope to expand into investigation of other online educational platforms.  Individual scholars and researchers involved with the project ultimately hope to publish discussion of what they are discovering about how we learn and share ideas through this kind of technology.  For those who are interested, MHC will provide links to those discussions as they are generated.

If you would like more information about these special initiatives or have ideas for other special innovative projects and programs that MHC might become a partner in, please contact MHC Executive Director Geoff Giglierano at Geoff@mohumanities.org .