A Sense of Wonder

August 20, 2015

How do we kindle a sense of wonder?

For me, the memory is vivid—how very excited my daughter was when  she found the ship manifest online. It contained the name of her great grandfather who had emigrated from Greece in 1910.  “Would you believe they changed the spelling of his name?” she told me, breathlessly. Such moments as this instill a sense of joy and wonder about the past and how it connects to here and now. The challenge is to create those moments for as many people as we can.  At the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, that’s what we’re trying to do. One way is by building a partnership with the Pennsylvania library community for out-of-school called Teen Reading Lounge. Participants use popular teen books and fun arts experiences to foster creative discovery outside the classroom and deep learning for teens, who actively create the program with librarians and educators.  It’s all based on the concept of “connected learning,” which brings a young person’s interests, extracurricular activities, experiences, and passions into the mix.

Our humanities partners – from grassroots arts and cultural organizations to universities, museums, historical societies, and art galleries – are wrestling with how to make their work meaningful for the public. In that regard, we see the Pennsylvania Humanities Council learning from a community of practitioners who are providing people from all walks of life the tools to learn, engage with one another, and build a better future. Teen Reading Lounge is one example of the participatory programming that is essential to our future.

The collection Letting Go? Shared Historical Authority in a User-Generated World brings together leading innovators in public humanities to talk about visitor-generated experiences – how they can transform our cultural spaces, empower people to tell truths not previously told, and compel cultural organizations to co-create and change our content in an ongoing conversation with our communities.  “[All] people have a narrative role to play in the exploration of human experience,” writes contributor Kathleen McLean. Undoubtedly, such a position creates tension not only for experts and artists but also those audiences used to the lectures and didacticism of the past.  But we will do better, as McLean suggests, to consider our participants not as “novices” but as “’ scholars’ in the best sense of the word – people who engage in study and learning for the love of it.”

Together, we need to share in the inquiry, change as new ideas and voices surface, and build communities of ongoing learning. We need to be open for something magical to happen to foster once again the wonder and curiosity that is at the heart of learning and the humanities.

Where do you find the magic of the humanities? 

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