EvCC course: Traumatic history and present-day relationships

A federal grant has launched a conversation about how history helps and hinders the way we relate.

EVERETT — An instructor at Everett Community College is looking to spark conversations about how people remember the past, and the way it shapes identities and relationships today.

The project has earned a $90,285 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The money is to be stretched over two years to create curriculum and bring in expert speakers.

English instructor Steven Tobias is heading up the work. He hopes to focus in the first year on Northwest Indian history and culture, slavery in the U.S., and the Holocaust. Second-year topics could include war in the Middle East, terrorism and global immigration.

“The idea is that the first year, we’re looking at more established topics, or historical topics,” Tobias said. “It will kind of set the table for looking at how we’re actively laying the ground work for how future generations will remember the past.”

He stresses that the past is never gone. The rich cultures of Northwest tribes, for example, play a role in the region’s history and its present.

History is filtered through films, books, art and other media. The project aims to bring together instructors from different subjects to look at how public memory, particularly of trauma, takes shape.

Recent debates and confrontations around the country about the removal of Confederate monuments show how history, public art and modern identity can clash.

“It seems like what that whole controversy has done is gotten people to think about the influence of art and public humanities work, and how it is very powerful and really impacts how we see ourselves,” Tobias said.

The first speaker is U.S. Army Col. John Nelson, an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He’ll talk about about how veterans’ memories have been translated into film. The presentation is scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 16 at Baker Hall. It’s free and open to the public.

Future speakers might include representatives from the Tulalip Tribes and from an organization that works to fight human trafficking.

The college’s mission is to prepare students for the future, maybe for jobs that don’t yet exist, Tobias said. No matter what profession they go into, it’s essential to understand and empathize with others, he said.

“I think recent events have shown us that remembering the past isn’t something we do that answers all the questions,” Tobias said. “As people move into the future, they need to be able to deal with these questions of culture and history and identity.”

Everett’s community college is one of at least 20 to receive funding through the Humanities Initiatives at Community Colleges program. More than $1.8 million was awarded to colleges around the country for projects starting in 2016 or 2017.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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