LAWRENCE -- University of Kansas Continuing Education will offer a statewide online book discussion and one-hour credit course as part of the 2004 celebration of the Kansas Territory˙s 150th anniversary. Local book discussion groups will be offered in Colby, Fort Scott and Junction City, as well.
The initial sessions of the four-part book series were held at the Lawrence Public Library in fall 2003 and were audiotaped for the online discussions that will begin Jan. 14. Kansans may join the online discussions by going to www.kuce.org/kt.
"Uncle Tom˙s Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Facilitators: Susan Harris, Hall distinguished professor of American literature and culture, and Maryemma Graham, professor of English, both from KU. Discussion begins Jan. 14.
"The Englishman in Kansas" by Thomas Gladstone. Facilitator: Tom Kreissler, KU doctoral candidate in English. Discussion begins Jan. 28.
"John Brown: The Legend Revisited" by Merrill Peterson. Facilitator: Jonathan Earle, KU assistant professor of history. Discussion begins Feb. 11.
"The All-true Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton" by Jane Smiley. Facilitator: Tom Averill, Washburn University professor of English. Discussion begins Feb. 25.
The first book for discussion, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852), is a powerful literary document and cultural phenomenon. In its first week of publication, 10,000 copies were sold; 300,000 were sold by the end of the year, making it the best seller of the 19th century. Soon after the book's publication, theatrical versions were produced across the country, popularizing Stowe's story and characters, several of whose names -- Uncle Tom, Simon Legree and Topsy -- came into common use. Abraham Lincoln credited Harriet Beecher Stowe with writing the book that started the Civil War. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is widely read in high schools and universities and is among the most successful and influential books in American history. In the Kansas territorial period, however, an immigrant who brought the book into the territory risked being put to death -- by law and by border ruffians.
KU Continuing Education has developed a distance-learning credit course, "The Kansas Territorial Experience," to accompany the discussion series. Kreissler will instruct the Web course, which begins this month and is cross-listed in the KU departments of English, African and African-American studies, and history.
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. The council's resource center will furnish books and provide facilitators for the live book discussions. The Kansas Territorial Experience Web site includes numerous links to the Territorial Kansas Online Web site developed by the Kansas State Historical Society and KU. The Kansas Press Association is helping disseminate information about this book discussion series.
Related to the sesquicentennial, the Kansas Humanities Council is organizing the summer 2004 Kansas Chautauqua titled "Bleeding Kansas: Where the Civil War Began." This event will step back to the turbulent period of 1854 to 1861, when two visions of America -- one free, one slave -- battled for the nation's future. Six historical figures, including Frederick Douglass, John Brown and Clarina Nichols, will take the stage each evening under an old-fashioned tent. Colby, Fort Scott, Junction City and Lawrence will host the Chautauqua.
Information about the public online book discussion group and accompanying credit course is available on the KU Continuing Education Web site. Information on Audio-Reader services is available by calling (800) 772-8898. Information about the Kansas Chautauqua and the local book discussion groups is online at www.kansashumanities.org.
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