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Half-century of telling Kentucky’s story

Have you ever wished you could trade tall tales with Daniel Boone? Kentucky Humanities has brought more than 70 historical characters to life through its Kentucky Chautauqua program. If you’ve attended the annual Kentucky Book Festival or enjoyed a Think History segment on Kentucky public radio, did you know that Kentucky Humanities is behind them? How about Kentucky gems like Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, the National Quilt Museum or the Lexington Children’s Theatre? Kentucky Humanities supports them. 

Every day, Kentuckians can experience their state’s story in new ways, thanks to Kentucky Humanities’ creativity and reach. Kentucky Humanities’ labor of love is to vitalize Kentucky’s history, to enrich its literacy and to celebrate its multifaceted culture. The nonprofit organization now employs a host of programs, resources and events—and it all started with five Kentucky scholars making a trip to Washington 50 years ago. 

That Washington trek resulted in the formation of the Kentucky Humanities Council, whose sole function in the early years was to direct the flow of grant money from the National Endowment for the Humanities to relevant organizations and projects in Kentucky. 

“The humanities” encompass language and literature, history, philosophy and other human-specific pursuits. Today, Kentucky Humanities recognizes and nurtures these disciplines across the commonwealth with a range of programs and events, and provides support for existing efforts. “Since 1972, we have been ‘telling Kentucky’s story’ throughout the commonwealth with Kentucky Chautauqua performances, our Speaker’s Bureau, the Prime Time Family Reading program, the Kentucky Book Festival, and much more,” says Bill Goodman, the organization’s executive director. “Kentucky Humanities has created a legacy of pride in the wealth of Kentucky culture, building civic engagement, and supporting local humanities programs and events.” 

Kentucky Humanities has been a longtime supporter of Kentucky’s Governor’s Scholars Program. Each year Kentucky Humanities provides grant funding to Governor’s Scholars for teacher training and inclusion of humanities programs. 

Special events 

To recognize its 50th anniversary this year, Kentucky Humanities is holding a series of events celebrating Kentucky’s music, food, poetry, science, journalism and more. Out of the yearlong lineup, two anniversary events remain—one focused on food, the other on space travel (see sidebar). The final event features a discussion of space exploration. Kris Kimel, co-founder of Space Tango, an orbital research and manufacturing company based in Lexington, asserts that deep space exploration sharpens the question that lies at the heart of humanities: what does it mean to be a good human? 

“For thousands of years, as humans have ventured far beyond their surroundings, the humanities and a reimagining of what it means to be human has followed,” Kimel says. “And now in the transition to a spacefaring species, the humanities will again be central to maintaining our humanness as we depart our planet.” 

For more about Kentucky Humanities’ history, mission and programming, visit

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