Letter from Dr. Stuart Rockoff
The Mississippi Humanities Council has produced an extraordinary record of supporting and developing innovative humanities programming across the state. As I begin my first weeks as the new director of this organization, I may as well admit to you that I am not a native Mississippian. I grew up in Texas, and then went to college in the Northeast before returning home to work on my Ph.D. in U.S. History from U.T.-Austin. In 2002, I moved to Jackson to become the Director of the History Department at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. For the past eleven years, I have worked as a public scholar, bringing attention to an often overlooked area of southern history. Over the course of my years at the Institute, I had the pleasure of working with the Mississippi Humanities Council on several projects as well as with humanities councils from across the South.
Through this work, I have gained a keen appreciation of the importance of the humanities, not just in the ivory towers of academia, but for all of our citizens. The motto of the Mississippi Humanities Council, that the “Humanities are for Everyone,” deeply resonates with my core beliefs as a public historian. I am especially proud to lead an organization that not only supports prominent academic conferences and cutting-edge scholars, but also runs family literacy programs. With our Family Reading Bonds project, grants program, speakers bureau, oral history project, travelling Smithsonian exhibits, and humanities teachers and scholars awards, the Council has had a profound impact on our state. In the past two years alone, our programs have touched all 82 counties of Mississippi, reaching its biggest cities and smallest towns.
Through this work, the Council has been a strong advocate for the importance of the humanities. As the recent report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences described, the humanities truly are the “keeper of the republic.” In order for our state and our country to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must understand who we are and where we have been as a people. In a state that has endured tremendous turmoil and where the past is often conflicted terrain, the humanities, and the Mississippi Humanities Council, have played a crucial role in highlighting our common experiences while recognizing our differences.
I pledge to you that this important work will continue under my tenure. I am very lucky to be joining a talented and seasoned staff. Frankly, my first order of business is to stay out of their way — they do tremendous work. The Council has always done a lot with relatively few resources. Especially now with the turmoil in Washington, we need to seek out new funding sources, to ensure that the Council continues to reach people all across the state. And so I end my first message as executive director with a direct plea for your support. Elsewhere in this newsletter you can see how your contribution will be used. With your help, we can continue the Council’s remarkable legacy in the years ahead.