Kansas Studies Institute
Pictured above: "The Native American" by Stan Herd, done in a 20-acre field.
The Kansas Studies Institute at JCCC promotes research and teaching on the culture, history, economics and natural environment of Kansas. The institute reaches out to two audiences – Johnson County residents who don’t know much about Kansas beyond the metropolitan area and residents who have moved to the suburbs from rural areas and want to maintain a connection to home. Dr. James Leiker, professor of history, is the director.
The KSI’s first offering was a Kansas Studies Series, six continuing education classes taught by JCCC faculty on Kansas topics during the fall 2009 semester, co-sponsored by KSI and JCCC’s Community Services. The series, featuring topics such as Kansas ecology, weather, water, art, ethnic groups and history, as well as the Dust Bowl in literature, was repeated in spring 2010.
In November 2010, the Institute introduced the inaugural presentation of the Kansas Lecture Series with Wes Jackson, president, The Land Institute. In March, KSI, in conjunction with the college’s Performing Arts Series and its office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, presented Flyin’ West, a play about Nicodemus, Kansas, an all-black town settled by former slaves in 1877, which was performed by JERIC Productions. In addition, Angela Bates, executive director, Nicodemus Historical Society, gave a lecture on Blacks and Black Towns in the West—The Nicodemus Story.
The KSI also produced a 30-minute video, Moon Tosser of the Prairie, about sculptor M.T. Liggett from Mullinville, Kan. While Liggett has been the subject of previous television interviews, including one on the Discovery Channel, this program took an in-depth look at the metal sculptor who uses scrap farm equipment as his media, a cutting torch and arc welder as his tools. The documentary was also broadcast on KCPT public television. The work was completed by JCCC faculty and Video Services.
In November 2010, Kansan Stan Herd, considered the world’s preeminent representational earthwork artist, talked about The Prairie Renaissance. In his presentation, Herd looked at themes of prairie art and how painters, sculptors and now filmmakers are rethinking the concept of the prairie in their subject matter.
That presentation led to Herd’s commission to create one of his famous “earthworks,” titled Kansa, on the southwestern side of the JCCC campus. The design began with a 90-foot circle on a quarter-acre of land. Inside that circle is a petroglyph – a drawing or carving on rock in prehistoric times. Herd said the petroglyph was inspired in part by author William Least Heat Moon’s PrairyErth drawing of an ancient petroglyph in a book of the same name.
The artists laid initial stonework in fall 2012, followed by plantings in the spring. The work was completed and dedicated in April 2013.
Other Kansas Studies Institute events have been:
- Patrick Dobson, adjunct assistant professor of history, discussed his book, Seldom Seen: A Journey Into the Great Plains.
- Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, the Poet Laureate of Kansas 2009-2011, spoke on Finding Our Way Home to Ourselves and This Land: A Reading of Poetry and Prose with Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. Her presence was the capstone to an all-day Kansas Writers Symposium sponsored by KSI and the English department. The goal was to facilitate a gathering of writers from diverse disciplines whose work centers on Kansas as a “place.” Invited writers included historians, fiction writers, poets, essayists and scientists.
- Bill Kurtis, nationally known journalist and a native of southeast Kansas, discussed his efforts to return the prairie lands near Sedan, Kan., to their native state, revive Sedan’s economy and establish a company that revises the agribusiness model of feedlot cattle to create healthier beef that is better for the environment, animals and consumers.
- Dr. William Keel, professor of Germanic languages at the University of Kansas, delivered the keynote address at the Kansas Languages Symposium in November 2012. The symposium focused on how dozens of cultures, ethnicities and languages were sewn together to create Kansas.