Rachel Hopkin

Folklorist and Radio Producer

Checking in from Las Vegas

24 December, 2013

It’s been a very long time since I last posted here, mainly because things have been so very busy and in such a state of upheaval – what with the move from Kentucky to Las Vegas to take up a new job, then settling in and finding my way. There have been challenges and excitement in just about equal measure, but all in all, I feel blessed to be here and be doing the work that I’m doing in a great organisation and with fantastic and inspiring colleagues.

In order to give you an idea of what I’m up to and what my new employer is all about, here is a slightly revised version of a blog that I wrote for Nevada Humanities’ newly relaunched website.


Since taking up the position of Program Manager at Nevada Humanities, I’ve been repeatedly asked to explain what exactly Nevada Humanities is and what we do, so I thought I’d use this post to address that question.

Nevada Humanities is one of 56 U.S. state and territorial Humanities offices affiliated with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The NEH, in turn, is a federal agency that was set up in the mid sixties by an Act of Congress. That Act recognized that the humanities are a cornerstone of any democratic nation worth its salt, and paved the way for the establishment of a central funding body that would help to harness and promote their power.

So what exactly are the humanities? The word is rarely used outside of academic circles. The NEH’s own website offers this definition:

“The term ‘humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”

I don’t know about you, but that definition does zero for me. It neither excites or engages me and it’s too “list-y”. By way of contrast, this explanation – shamelessly plundered from the website of the Ohio Humanities Council – absolutely hits the spot:

“The humanities are the stories, the ideas, and the words that help us make sense of our lives and our world. The humanities introduce us to people we have never met, places we have never visited, and ideas that may have never crossed our minds. By showing how others have lived and thought about life, the humanities help us decide what is important in our own lives and what we can do to make them better. By connecting us with other people, they point the way to answers about what is right or wrong, or what is true to our heritage and our history. The humanities help us address the challenges we face together in our families, our communities, and as a nation.”

Isn’t that great? Just reading it inspires me. (Incidentally, I’d like to clarify that said stories don’t necessarily need to be told with words; dance, music, images etc. can all have narrative force.)

And so what does that boil down to in terms of the work that we do here at Nevada Humanities? Well, in brief, we’re about creating, cultivating and supporting public programs which draw on said stories, ideas and words to enable Nevadans to live richer and more meaningful lives. We both initiate and run such programs ourselves (for example, with our Salon), or in partnership with other organizations (like the Vegas Valley Book Festival). We also provide grants and guidance for others to do the same. You can see the range of our current programs on the Nevada Humanities website, but know that there are more in the pipeline, as my colleagues and I are hard at work cooking up ideas that we hope to set in motion shortly.