Feb. 19, 2004

Contact: Barbara Watkins, KU Continuing Education, (785) 864-7881.

Final statewide online Kansas Territory book discussion begins Feb. 25

LAWRENCE -- The fourth and final statewide online book discussion in a series on the 150th anniversary of the Kansas Territory begins Feb. 25 at www.kuce.org/kt.

Developed by University of Kansas Continuing Education, the discussion series includes a one-hour credit course as part of the 2004 celebration of the Kansas Territory's 150th anniversary. Local book discussion groups also are offered in Colby, Fort Scott and Junction City.

Kansans can participate in these online discussions throughout the territorial period's sesquicentennial celebration (2004 through 2011). They may read these books on their own schedule and post comments and questions in the online forums.

The final book to be discussed is Jane Smiley's novel "The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton." In it the frontier, which traditionally has been viewed as a stage for manly action and rugged independence, is populated instead by strong, assertive women and powerful couples such as Charles and Sara Robinson. Hardship, hatred and violence, as well as joy, friendship and cooperation, exist on this frontier. Furthermore, Kansas is a battlefield where ideologues on either side of the slavery issue wage war.

"Lidie Newton" is a 19th-century book written in the 20th century. Smiley's title character is neither an abolitionist from New England, like her husband and the other settlers of free-state Lawrence, nor an advocate for or beneficiary of the institution of slavery. An inquiring and objective -- if not neutral -- character surrounded by a cast of radicals, Lidie serves Smiley as a means to study different perspectives and positions on the issue of slavery.

Immigrants to Kansas of all persuasions invariably were asked whether they were "sound on the goose." How they responded to this arcane question became a matter of life or death. Together, the four books selected for discussion give important and compelling perspectives on this question and on the Kansas Territorial experience.

The initial sessions of the four-part book series took place at the Lawrence Public Library in fall 2003 and were audiotaped for the online discussions. More than 600 individuals have participated in the discussions of the first two books or visited the Kansas Territorial Experience Web site.

Other books in the series are "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe; "The Englishman in Kansas" by Thomas Gladstone; and "John Brown: The Legend Revisited" by Merrill Peterson.

Continuing Education partnered with the Kansas Humanities Council and the Lawrence Public Library to develop this project, and with the Kansas Press Association, Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, Kansas State Historical Society and KU's Spencer Research Library, which created a comprehensive Web site (Territorial Kansas Online: www.terrritorialkansasonline.org), in disseminating information and sharing links.

KUCE developed a distance-learning credit course, "The Kansas Territorial Experience," to accompany the discussion series, which began in January.

In support of the discussion series, the Kansas Audio-Reader Network will broadcast readings of the four books to more than 7,000 listeners in Kansas and western Missouri. Audio-Reader services are free to those who have difficulty reading standard print.

The sesquicentennial book discussion series is funded in part by the Kansas Humanities Council, a nonprofit cultural organization, as part of its "Talk about Literature in Kansas" (TALK) program.

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