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Background Image Esther Mackintosh

Meet Esther Mackintosh

What's Your Kansas Story?

My Kansas story began with a long and solitary drive from my childhood home in Iowa to Manhattan, where I was about to begin graduate courses in American literature. I had just graduated from college and was uncertain about my future and scared about this next challenging step. But the Kansas landscape and temperament felt familiar to me, and Manhattan and its beautiful surroundings gave me solid ground to steady me as I worked my way through the strenuous four years of classes, papers, research, and exams that make up the graduate school experience. In the faces of the farm kids in the freshman composition classes I was assigned as a teaching assistant, I saw myself. In the rolling hills around Manhattan, I recognized the peaceful landscape I had always known as home.

Describe what you do now. What inspires you about what you do?

Today I am the president of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the membership association of the remarkable humanities councils that exist in every state and territory. I have been with the Federation for 33 years, and when I am asked how I have managed to stay for so long, my answer is simple: the work of the councils and by extension the Federation is ever-changing and always fascinating. Every day, in reading about the programs councils are carrying out in their states, I learn something new every day about the people and communities of this country—their challenges, their concerns, the things they care about. Councils know these communities at a very deep level, and my inspiration comes from seeing how councils use that knowledge, along with the methods and tools of the humanities, to help nurture a more thoughtful, compassionate, and just nation, beginning at the community level.

Why should people join our movement of ideas?

The Humanities Kansas Movement of Ideas is right at the top of the list of the wonderfully innovative ways that councils open up untold stories and histories to the people of their states. People who join this Movement of Ideas will open the door to a fresh and interactive way to engage with the unique people and events, past and present, of Kansas. The regular Movement of Ideas newsletters not only inform, they also invite you to explore, in a dynamic way, such historical events as the Civil Rights movement or Woodstock, such pressing themes as food and climate change, and such important but unknown figures as Gertrude Davis, especially in relation to their connection to Kansas. It doesn’t invite you to learn about these issues and figures passively, but actively, through programs, books and activities made accessible through links in the newsletter itself. 

"People who join this Movement of Ideas will open the door to a fresh and interactive way to engage with the unique people and events, past and present, of Kansas."

Why do stories and fresh thinking matter in Kansas today?

Kansas is not the same state it was ten years ago, or even two years ago. Like so many other states, Kansas is seeing significant demographic, economic, and other changes. Planning for and adapting to these changes requires well-informed and engaged residents, who understand not only the issues the state faces but also the stories of both the long-time residents and the newcomers.  The humanities play a major role here, as Humanities Kansas demonstrates.  Programs that inform participants about the human stories especially of their newer neighbors will help them understand the challenges these neighbors have faced and the forms of support that will help them be more productive participants in the civic life of their new homes. Programs that encourage nuanced examination of the state’s history will help inform decisions about the future.

What do you wish people understood about Kansas?

Midwestern states, including Kansas, are easy to stereotype as bland, homogenous, and cautious. In fact, Kansas is an increasingly diverse and dynamic state, defining and addressing challenges at the community level, even while it maintains so many of the virtues I remember from my years of living there—neighborly generosity, civic-mindedness, and preservation of the state’s natural beauty.

About Esther Mackintosh

Esther Mackintosh joined the Federation of State Humanities Councils in 1986 and has served as its president since 2004.  She holds a BA in English and German from Morningside College in Iowa and a PhD in American Literature from Kansas State University. After graduate school she worked as a copy editor and eventually editor-in-chief of Horticulture magazine in Boston, a script writer in the audiovisual department of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and later as Senior Editor at Science 80, a science magazine for lay audiences published by AAAS.  She served for twelve years as a board member and volunteer teacher in a community-based adult literacy organization in DC and for eight years as a member of the board of Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. She currently serves on advisory boards for National History Day and the Humanities Indicators and on the board of the National Humanities Alliance.



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