The Center has a long tradition of promoting original research on the American Midwest, a region that often has been overlooked by scholars. We encourage an exploration of the diverse people whose stories make up the history of this compelling region and promote the dissemination of this scholarship through print, digital media, exhibits, and public programming. Partnering with regional museums, libraries, historical societies, and universities, the Center’s projects encourage a greater awareness of the region’s history and culture.
Learn more about the Center for Midwestern Studies projects below.
Public Humanities Projects Associated with the Center
The African American Heritage Trail of Kansas City is a city-wide collaboration led by the Kansas City Historic Preservation Commission. CMS partnered with the AAHTKC to conduct listening sessions with community stakeholders and create content for the trail.
Clio is a digital and public humanities project created and led by Dr. David Trowbridge. It has been used by over 500 universities and organizations to create over 39,000 entries and 1,500 walking tours, interpretive trails, and virtual tours of museums and sites. The project connects over a million people to nearby history, art, and science each month through its website and mobile application.
Since 2017, Professor of History Andrew Bergerson has been working with colleagues and students from UMKC, UMSL, and universities in Germany, Vienna, and Poland on virtual, interuniversity graduate research seminars researching and writing the history of German migration to Missouri.
The Guadalupe Centers Centennial Projects are a collaborative endeavor led by Drs. Sandra Enríquez and Theresa Torres (REGS), along with the Guadalupe Centers, the Kansas City Public Library, and Tico Productions. Through an exhibit, a documentary, an archival project, and public programming, this multifaceted public history and public humanities effort documents, interprets, and disseminates the history of the longest continuously operating Latinx social service organization in the United States. Collectively, the projects celebrate the Guadalupe Centers’ century of serving the Kansas City community, while placing the story of the Latino community in mainstream narratives of the region.
The Guadalupe Centennial Projects won the 2020 History in Progress Award and the Award of Excellence from the American Association of State and Local History, and received an Honorable Mention for the 2019 Alice Smith Prize in Public History from the Midwestern History Association.
The LatinxKC Oral History Project, led by Dr. Sandra Enríquez, documents and archives the historic and contemporary experiences of the Latinx community in the Kansas City area through oral histories. The project is a collaboration between undergraduate and graduate students, the Center for Midwestern Studies, and LaBudde Special Collections at UMKC. Since 2017, the team has collected over 60 oral histories and has created a publicly accessible component featuring interpretative essays and interview clips. Audio and video files of the interviews are deposited at LaBudde Special Collections.
Making History was curated by Dr. Christopher Cantwell, Stuart Hinds (UMKC Libraries and Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America), and Kathryn B. Carpenter (MA, 2019), with contributions from UMKC Public History students. The exhibit explores the gay and lesbian activism in the decades before the Stonewall Uprising, highlighting the critical role Kansas City played in the movement.
Making History won the 2018 Student Project Award from the National Council on Public History and the 2017 Alice Smith Public History Award from the Midwestern History Association.
Profiles in Kansas City Activism is a collaborative digital history project with the support of Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P., directed by Drs. Sandra Enríquez and Rebecca Davis in the Department of History. The project website features biographies of major activists in the greater Kansas City metro area along with oral histories, photographs, and documents that highlight diversity and change in the city’s and state’s history.
Show Me Missouri tells the story of Missouri and Missourians through the lens of 200 historically and culturally significant objects. Led by the Department of History and the Center for Midwestern Studies at the University of Missouri—Kansas City, the Springfield-Greene County Library District, and the Kansas City Public Library, the project is a statewide collaboration of historians, public historians, archivists, librarians, and students to provide a more complex, inclusive, and critical interpretation of the Show Me State.
Edgar Snow Project is a digital exhibit that explores the life of internationally-renowned journalist and Kansas City native Edgar Snow. The first western journalist to interview Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong, Snow would also play a role in reestablishing the diplomatic ties between China and the United States. The Edgar Snow Project explores Snow's life and times by situating his writings, photographs, and personal papers upon an interactive map. The project was built by Dr. Christopher Cantwell, Autumn Nielsen (MA, 2020), and the students in his Spring 2014 "Introduction to Digital History" class, with support of of the Edgar Snow Memorial Foundation.
This project, led by Dr. Diane Mutti Burke, was a collaboration between the UMKC Center for Midwestern Studies, Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, the Kansas City Public Library, and the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library. The project partners organized a well-attended public conference in April 2018 that focused on the important history of Quindaro, Kansas, and offered a space for dialogue to designate the townsite ruins as a National Historic Landmark.
Books Associated with the Center
Long before the first shot of the Civil War was fired at Fort Sumter, violence had already erupted along the Missouri-Kansas border—a recurring cycle of robbery, arson, torture, murder, and revenge. This multifaceted study brings together fifteen scholars to expand our understanding of this vitally important region, the violence that besieged it, and its overall impact on the Civil War
Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri blends political, military, social, and intellectual history to explain why the region’s divisiveness was so bitter and persisted for so long. Providing a more nuanced understanding of the conflict, it defines both what united and divided the men and women who lived there and how various political disagreements ultimately disintegrated into violence. By focusing on contested definitions of liberty, citizenship, and freedom, it also explores how civil societies break down and how they are reconstructed when the conflict ends.
The contributors examine this key chapter in American history in all of its complexity. Essays on “Slavery and Politics of Law and Order along the Border” examine how the border region was transformed by the conflict over the status of slavery in Kansas Territory and how the emerging conflict on the Kansas-Missouri border took on a larger national significance. Other essays focus on the transition to total warfare and examine the wartime experiences of the diverse people who populated the region in “Making the Border Bleed.” Final articles on “The Border Reconstructed and Remembered” explore the ways in which border residents rebuilt their society after the war and how they remembered it decades later.
As this penetrating collection shows, only when Missourians and Kansans embraced a common vision for America—one based on shared agricultural practices, ideas about economic development, and racial equality—could citizens on both sides of the border reconcile.
On Slavery’s Border is a bottom-up examination of how slavery and slaveholding were influenced by both the geography and the scale of the slaveholding enterprise. Missouri’s strategic access to important waterways made it a key site at the periphery of the Atlantic world. By the time of statehood in 1821, people were moving there in large numbers, especially from the upper South, hoping to replicate the slave society they’d left behind.
Diane Mutti Burke focuses on the Missouri counties located along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to investigate small-scale slavery at the level of the household and neighborhood. She examines such topics as small slaveholders’ child-rearing and fiscal strategies, the economics of slavery, relations between slaves and owners, the challenges faced by slave families, sociability among enslaved and free Missourians within rural neighborhoods, and the disintegration of slavery during the Civil War. Mutti Burke argues that economic and social factors gave Missouri slavery an especially intimate quality. Owners directly oversaw their slaves and lived in close proximity with them, sometimes in the same building. White Missourians believed this made for a milder version of bondage. Some slaves, who expressed fear of being sold further south, seemed to agree.
Mutti Burke reveals, however, that while small slaveholding created some advantages for slaves, it also made them more vulnerable to abuse and interference in their personal lives. In a region with easy access to the free states, the perception that slavery was threatened spawned white anxiety, which frequently led to violent reassertions of supremacy.
Kansas City is often seen as a mild-mannered metropolis in the heart of flyover country. But a closer look tells a different story, one with roots in the city— complicated and colorful past. The decades between World Wars I and II were a time of intense political, social, and economic change—for Kansas City, as for the nation as a whole. In exploring this city at the literal and cultural crossroads of America, Wide-Open Town maps the myriad ways in which Kansas City reflected and helped shape the narrative of a nation undergoing an epochal transformation.
During the interwar period, political boss Tom Pendergast reigned, and Kansas City was said to be “wide open.” Prohibition was rarely enforced, the mob was ascendant, and urban vice was rampant. But in a community divided by the hard lines of race and class, this “openness” also allowed many of the city’s residents to challenge conventional social boundaries—and it is this intersection and disruption of cultural norms that interests the authors of Wide-Open Town. Writing from a variety of disciplines and viewpoints, the contributors take up topics ranging from the 1928 Republican National Convention to organizing the garment industry, from the stockyards to health care, drag shows, Thomas Hart Benton, and, of course, jazz. Their essays bring to light the diverse histories of the city—among, for instance, Mexican immigrants, African Americans, the working class, and the LGBT community before the advent of “LGBT.”
Wide-Open Town captures the defining moments of a society rocked by World War I, the mass migration of people of color into cities, the entrance of women into the labor force and politics, Prohibition, economic collapse, and a revolution in social mores. Revealing how these changes influenced Kansas City—and how the city responded—this volume helps us understand nothing less than how citizens of the age adapted to the rise of modern America.
Research Symposia Associated with the Center
The Center co-sponsored the successful Border Wars Project with the Kansas City Public Library, the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas, and Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. Fifteen scholars, who actively research and write about the Civil War in the Kansas/Missouri border region, shared and received feedback on their scholarship at a workshop held at the Hall Center. Historical themes and points of connection emerged from these conversations. The scholars met again to present their revised papers at a well-attended public conference that was held at the Kansas City Public Library. This scholarship was published in an award-winning volume, Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Western Border, Jonathan Earle and Diane Mutti Burke, co-editors (University Press of Kansas, 2013). Many of the Border Wars scholars worked with the Kansas City Public Library on its multiple award-winning Civil War on the Western Border website.
Building off the success of the Border Wars project, the CMS embarked on a second large collaborative project with the Kansas City Public Library. Co-Sponsored by UMKC, Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, and the Missouri Humanities Council, Wide Open Town was an innovative, interdisciplinary project that resulted in the production of new scholarship on the history of Kansas City during the interwar period, an era often described as the city’s “Golden Age.” From a variety of perspectives, this project explores the histories of the city’s diverse populations and engages in discussions about the built environment, racial and gender politics, as well as the political, economic, and cultural life of the city. As with the Border War project, scholars came to Kansas City in Fall 2015 to share and workshop their research. They returned to the city the following spring to present to a large public audience at multi-day conference at the Kansas City Public Library. This scholarship was published in the award winning book, Wide-Open Town: Kansas City in the Pendergast Era, Diane Mutti Burke, Jason Roe, and John Herron, co-editors (University Press of Kansas, 2018); and the Kansas City Public Library’s multiple award winning website, The Pendergast Years: Kansas City in the Jazz Age and Great Depression.