In Focus: Wyoming Council for the Humanities

Article excerpt

Wyoming is one small town with streets two hundred miles long," says director of the Wyoming Council for the Humanities, Robert G. Young. "All of these towns are very much isolated."

The council has begun to address community issues in six of these towns by bringing literature scholars together with community leaders in a program called "Building Our Communities: The Humanities in Public Life." It will involve the towns of Rock Springs, Sheridan, Evanston, Torrington, Riverton, and Gillette. Each has a population of less than twenty-five thousand and each is facing some kind of disruption to the social fabric. "We hope to bring the issues that literature forces us to confront to those people whose lives are often socially and emotionally isolated. It's a way of building a sense of community between people, and among people who are literally quite far apart."

The program is part of the NEH's Model Humanities Project Grants. These grants of $20,000 each are targeted to fourteen states and Puerto Rico, areas previously underserved. The grants, said NEH Chairman William Ferris, "will demonstrate how public funds for the humanities can make a profound difference in small, rural communities... by encouraging creative partnerships and enduring networks among humanities organizations."

The program is modeled on the Wyoming council's earher effort, "Humanities at Work," intended for lawyers and doctors. In the legal component, called "Reading the Law: Literature and Legal Ethics," lawyers and scholars discuss the legal and ethical dimensions of a single work. For lawyers, it might be the play, A Man for All Seasons, or Melville's Billy Budd, or Noon Wine by Katherine Anne Porter. "These works probe more deeply and directly into ethical issues than most courses in legal ethics that lawyers might attend," Young says. The response among attorneys in Wyoming is "absolutely riveting," as one lawyer put it.

"The Human Face of Medicine" is the name of the same program designed for doctors and medical students. Introduced in the fall of 1999, the program uses a scholar, often a philosopher, to discuss a work, such as The Use of Force by William Carlos Williams. …