The workshop will be offered twice. Thirty-six participants will be selected for each week.
Session I: Sunday, June 21 – Friday, June 26, 2020
Session II: Sunday, July 19 – Friday, July 24, 2020
*Applicants should indicate on their application which session they would prefer.
**Session I and Session II will follow the same schedule.
***Downloadable schedule coming soon!
The workshop will begin at the central branch of the Kansas City Public Library on Sunday evening. Originally the First National Bank Building, the building that houses the library’s central branch was constructed in 1906 and remodeled in 1926. The library moved to this historic building in 2004. We will meet upstairs in a public event space next to the Missouri Valley Room, a vast archival resource for Kansas City history.
Before an opening reception and dinner, program faculty will introduce Wide-Open Town Scholars to the historical themes and schedule for the workshop, the final project assignment, and the research tools available on The Pendergast Years website.
Monday: Monuments and Memory
Scholars will spend Day 2 of the workshop at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, the nation’s official World War I Museum and a National Historic Landmark. The Liberty Memorial was financed by individual contributions from residents of the region to honor those who served in the Great War. The site was dedicated in 1921, when all five allied commanders gathered before a crowd of over 100,000; in 1926, President Calvin Coolidge officially opened the Egyptian revival style monument. At the turn of the twenty-first century, citizens supported efforts to approve a sales tax to pay for restoration of the memorial and to create a new museum, which opened in 2006. The state-of-the-art museum contains recreations of trenches and exhibits that explain the origins of the war and its effects on ordinary civilians and the military.
The day will begin with a lecture from Keith Eggener on “Kansas City’s Liberty Memorial: Remembering Then and Now.” Workshop participants will tour the Liberty Memorial with Keith Eggener, before visiting Union Station.
After lunch, Lora Vogt, Director of Education at the National World War I Museum, will lead a tour of the museum and archives and facilitate a conversation on best practices for incorporating museum content into teaching. Afterward, Wide-Open Town Scholars will have ample time to explore the exhibits of this world–class museum and its rich archival resources.
Through this site visit, Scholars will learn about the important role that the memorial has played in the civic life of Kansas City as well as explore how the meanings attached to the memorial have changed over time. The memorial initially helped fulfill Kansas Citians’ dreams for their city in addition to honoring the American men who died in service in WWI. Today, the museum and memorial educate the public on the history of the Great War.
In the evening, Jason Roe and Dacia Rzchowski will hold “office hours” to discuss lesson plans.
Tuesday: Politics and Progress in Kansas City’s Golden Age
On Day 3, participants will travel by bus to Independence, MO. They will begin the day with a group role-playing activity at the The White House Decision Center. The White House Decision Center offers experiential learning exercises designed for both students and adults. Participants assume the roles of advisors and the press to simulate one of Truman’s crucial decisions. Experiencing this “hands on” approach to history provides an authentic understanding of the power and pressures of the presidency. Scholars will tackle Truman’s 1948 decision to desegregate the armed forces as the simulation topic because this decision was greatly influenced by his time as a politician in Kansas City.
Wide-Open Town Scholars will then split into small groups to visit the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site. This site features a modest Victorian house built by Mrs. Truman’s grandfather in 1867. The Trumans lived there after their marriage in 1919 and it was known as the Summer White House while President Truman was in office (1945-1953). Truman lived in this house until his death in 1972.
After lunch, Scholars will have the opportunity to visit the old Jackson County Courthouse and the Jackson County Historical Society, where they can view the office and courtroom where Truman presided as county judge. They will hear from Jeffrey Pasley, who will describe the outsized influence of the Pendergast political machine in his lecture, “Big Deal in Little Tammany: Kansas City, the Pendergast Machine, and the Liberal Transformation of the Democratic Party.”
Scholars will spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the archives of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum. Opened in 1957, the Truman Library houses Truman’s personal papers and presidential files, along with oral histories, audio visual collections, and over 10,000 books on the president and his tenure in office. The complex also contains a museum that outlines Truman’s personal story and the history of his presidency. The Truman Library is undergoing an extensive, one-year renovation. Unfortunately, the museum will be closed, but the staff has graciously agreed to provide a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility during the construction.
Through this visit to President Truman’s hometown, Wide-Open Town Scholars will reflect on the important role that Kansas City style Democratic politics played during much of the twentieth century. A special focus of the discussion will be how the racial politics of Kansas City influenced both Truman’s worldview and the Democratic coalition that emerged in mid-century America. Scholars also will have the opportunity to view artifacts and documents related to Truman’s life and presidency and to conduct research for their lesson plans.
Wednesday: Culture at an American Crossroads
Scholars will begin Day 4 with a tour of the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site. Thomas Hart Benton is Missouri’s most famous twentieth century painter and one of the nation’s most influential artists of American Regionalism. He studied and worked in Chicago, Paris, and New York before returning to Missouri in 1935. Hired to teach painting at the Kansas City Art Institute, he bought this house in 1939 and lived there until he died in 1975. He developed friends in the city’s creative and cultural community and was commissioned to paint major works for the State Capitol and the Truman Library and Museum. He was proud of creating common art for the common man as well as his efforts to enhance Kansas City’s reputation as a cultural mecca. His studio in the adjacent carriage house was left exactly as it was when he died.
Wide-Open Town Scholars will then be transported by bus to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. When the museum opened in 1933, it was a testament to the city boosters’ dreams for the growing city. Today, the art museum contains a significant collection of early twentieth century American art, including several works by Thomas Hart Benton and other American Regionalists. After a lecture by Henry Adams on “Thomas Hart Benton and American Regionalism,” Scholars will have time to explore this world-class art museum, spend time working on their lesson plans in the museum’s education center, and eat lunch. After lunch, participants will go on a guided tour of the American Art Collection.
By visiting Thomas Hart Benton’s home and studio and seeing his work displayed, Wide-Open Town Scholars will learn about the cultural environment of Kansas City and how its residents’ artistic output influenced national trends.
Scholars will spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Country Club Plaza and Country Club District. Created and developed by pioneering Kansas City real estate developer J.C. Nichols in 1922, the Country Club Plaza is the first US shopping center designed for the automobile. The original buildings have a unified Spanish revival style, featuring fountains, statues, and outdoor cafes. Nichols also planned and built surrounding neighborhood communities, which featured winding roads, small parks, and restrictions on building styles, costs, and ownership. William Worley will lead Scholars on a bus tour of the district; Scholars will finish the day’s activities with a walking tour of the Plaza.
Through visits to these districts, NEH Scholars will assess Nichols’ design sensibility and suburban planning efforts, while grappling with the long legacy of his discriminatory practices, in particular the development of racially restrictive covenants in his neighborhoods. While aspects of Kansas City urban development were pioneering, the urban plan and built environment of Kansas City in many ways reflected nationwide trends of the era.
Thursday: Breaking Barriers in a Segregated City
On Day 5, Wide-Open Town Scholars will visit the 18th and Vine Historic District, Kansas City’s historic African American neighborhood. This neighborhood was a thriving residential and business district during the early decades of the twentieth century, as well as the site of the city’s famous Prohibition era club scene, the cradle of the Kansas City jazz style, and the home of the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team (Jackie Robinson’s team before he integrated Major League Baseball). Scholars will begin the day with a film about and walking tour of the district, followed by a tour of the American Jazz Museum.
After lunch, participants will tour the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. They will then walk to the Black Archives of Mid-America for a lecture by John Herron on “Making Meat: Race, Labor, and the Kansas City Stockyard.” Following the lecture, Wide-Open Town Scholars will hear from a panel of community members who lived in segregated Kansas City.
Later in the day, Wide-Open Town Scholars will visit the Mutual Musicians Foundation to hear from local jazz musicians about the important role that the organization has played in the Kansas City music community and in the preservation and dissemination of the KC jazz style. Originally the Colored Musicians Local 627, the Foundation was organized in 1930 as a social club for musicians and fans. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1981 and is known locally for its Friday and Saturday late night jam sessions. After a closing dinner, Scholars will have the chance to experience KC jazz at the Blue Room.
Through these site visits, Wide-Open Town Scholars will explore how Kansas City’s African American community experienced the constraints imposed upon them by racial segregation, while also taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the wide-open nature of Pendergast era Kansas City. In the process, this community made major contributions to the cultural heritage of the United States.
Friday: The City Looks Toward the Future
On the morning of Day 6, participants will be transferred by van to the Guadalupe Centers. Once a settlement house for Mexican immigrants in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood attached to the area’s Catholic church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Guadalupe Centers is now an educational and social service agency for the KC Latinx community. The current building, down the street from the church, was built in 1936 in the Spanish Mission style and contains facilities for K-12 classes, vocational training, and recreation. Participants will hear a lecture from Sandra Enríquez on “Fostering Mexican American Community: The Guadalupe Center and Kansas City’s Westside,” before touring the center.
During their visit to the center, Wide-Open Town Scholars will explore the long history of the Mexican immigrant and Mexican–American community in Kansas City as well as the importance of the Latinx community to the city’s future. The Guadalupe Centers also will provide the venue for Scholars’ to present their ideas for final lesson plans and projects.