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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural:  Julie Mulvihill, Humanities Kansas

June 29, 2022

By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University

Connections. They are a vital part of human relationships, connecting us to our past and to each other.

Portrait, Julie MulvihillEnhancing those human connections is one of the roles of the humanities, meaning the various aspects of human society and culture. For 50 years, an organization in Kansas has worked to enhance the humanities in communities across our state.

Julie Mulvihill is executive director of Humanities Kansas. She makes her home in Jefferson County, near the rural community of Perry, population 929 people. Now, that’s rural.

At right: Julie Mulvihill | Download this picture

Mulvihill recalls being motivated by the humanities when going to a museum as a student in elementary school. “Since I was a little kid, the humanities have inspired me, spurred me into action, and given me reason to pause for some serious thinking,” she said.

“I remember learning about the Galapagos Islands and sitting there on my carpet square and thinking, ‘there is a whole world out there that I know nothing about.’ I felt like it was an important responsibility to know more.”

It contributed to her lifelong love of reading and history, among other things.

Mulvihill earned a bachelors degree in education, social studies and english from the University of Kansas. She later earned the masters degree in historical administration and museum studies from KU. In 2002, she joined the staff of what is now called Humanities Kansas. She became executive director in 2008, now leading the organization into its second 50 years.

In 1972, the National Endowment for the Humanities invited Kansans to form a state-based humanities program connecting the public and humanities scholars for discussions on public issues. The state responded with the creation of the Kansas Committee for the Humanities, now known as Humanities Kansas.

The mission of Humanities Kansas is to connect communities with history, traditions and ideas so as to strengthen civic life. The organization website states: “Since our founding as an independent nonprofit in 1972, Humanities Kansas has pioneered programming, grants and partnerships that share stories to spark conversations — drawing people together and generating new ideas.”

For example:

  • There are grants to support locally based, humanities-focused activities, such as interpretive exhibitions, community conversations, town halls, panel discussions, presentations and more.
  • There is a book discussion program called TALK – Talk About Literature in Kansas.
  • There is a speaker’s bureau of those who can speak about a variety of topics
  • There are traveling exhibits provided to communities in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program.

In 2021, Humanities Kansas awarded nearly $285,000 in Culture Preservation, Humanities for All, and Action grants, plus provided support for community resources. These initiatives supported 361 events and 241 partnerships with local organizations in 124 communities. One out of every six Kansans was reached by a Humanities Kansas-supported program in some form.

Humanities Kansas has a 17 member Board of Directors from across the state. The current chair is Lori Goetsch of Manhattan.

“The humanities help us ask good questions: what do we value, how has that changed over time and across generations, what do we owe to one another, and where do we make adjustments to prepare for the generations to come?,” Mulvihill said. “We are grounded in this ideal that the human experience is worthy of our attention. Big ideas are the only way to tackle the big topics in front of us, and there is never a shortage of big topics to cover in Kansas or anywhere.”

“I love the humanities because there’s an encouragement, an expectation that we should all see beyond ourselves, and connect our own experiences with those of others.”

For more information or to access grants and programs, go to www.humanitieskansas.org.

Connections. Whether they build connectedness with our history or with our neighbors or with new ideas, they are a fundamental part of human relationships and American democracy. We commend Julie Mulvihill, Lori Goetsch and all those involved with Humanities Kansas for making a difference by building and enhancing these ideas and relationships.

Let’s get connected.

Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.


The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Media Services unit. A photo of Ron Wilson is available at  http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/news/sty/RonWilson.htm.  Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.

At a glance

Julie Mulvihill was enchanted and inspired by the humanities when she was a child in Kansas. Now she is executive director of Humanities Kansas, which is promoting the humanities to new generations of Kansans as her organization enters its second 50 years of existence.


Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development

Written by

Ron Wilson

Ron Wilson

Ron Wilson | Download this photo


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