Golden Anniversary Letter, August

Photo credit: Nathan Norby

Linda Karell, Ph.D.
Humanities Montana board member 2010–2016

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As Humanities Montana celebrates our 50th anniversary, we are honored to hear from previous board members and staff and our friends from throughout the state. This month, Dr. Linda Karell, a previous Humanities Montana board member and board chair, shares what Humanities Montana means to the state and what the humanities can do for the world.

Greetings, People of the World:

Well, that is ambitious! And yet, to encounter the humanities in any of its forms is to encounter the world, its histories and cultures, its shameful failures, its extraordinary accomplishments, and its aspirations for the future. No other field so fully explains who and how we are as the humanities. The humanities, and the people dedicated to them, are my loves. So, greetings, my loves.

I didn’t expect to become a Humanities Montana board member. I was recruited to finish out a term for a member who unexpectedly had to leave. Once there, however, it was years before the organization was able to pry me loose, and then only after I’d stayed as long as technically allowable. Although I was eventually elected vice chair and then chair of the board, my greatest pleasure over the years was working on the grants committee. There, I had the sheer joy of reviewing and helping to select the most creative, innovative, energetic, and sometimes downright pragmatic (all those underfunded museums, essential support for classroom events) applications to fund. Seeing those grant ideas come to fruition always reminded me that our work with Humanities Montana was both short- and long-term, that we were planting seeds for the future, an act that demanded hope from us. The same, I would argue, is true of how we live our lives. I was surrounded by such a wealth of good will, intelligence, humor, and doggedness (in a good way!) from my colleagues during those years, and I will always feel honored to have been given the opportunity to work with them on things that mattered.

It is hard right now to avoid despair when I think of how riven our American culture seems to be, how pumped up on hatred so many people are, when in fact, across America, we agree on much more than we disagree about. Yet even civility (always a low bar anyway, I feel) seems distant, and we are staring down dramatic erosions in democracy and equality before the law. We are also struggling with climate catastrophe, an ongoing pandemic, and more. We need hope and we need action, and Humanities Montana provides both. There is a crucial opportunity for Humanities Montana to act with purpose and courage in the midst of these challenges to creating lives worth living.

With the emphasis on the humanities and our connectedness, Humanities Montana leads by showing what it is to care for the public good and to engage with one another in the public square, as well as to support the growth of the individual. I hope to see more diversity in the board, especially by bringing on younger people and people of differing ethnic and racial backgrounds and sexualities. All of these aspects of diversity enrich that public square and make our lives larger; making a commitment to their representation on the board is essential. Continuing HM’s unmatched ability to provide grants and opportunities to learn together in underserved areas of Montana is essential as well. It is likely that these things, which are hard to accomplish even when people of good will are dedicated to realizing them, may well become harder in future political and financial cycles. I see Humanities Montana leading us through some of the dark times ahead, and I welcome, encourage, and support that leadership.

Linda Karell
Humanities Montana board member and chair