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In Focus

Minnesota’s Stanley Romanstein: Connecting the Arts and Humanities

By Lori Creel | HUMANITIES, November/December 2006 | Volume 27, Number 6

Stanley Romanstein comes from a family of musicians and has been singing ever since he can remember. He performs with the Minnesota Chorale, which works with both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

"It's a very professional arrangement in that you're responsible for showing up having mastered the repertoire. It's a wonderful artistic outlet," he says.

Romanstein, president and CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center, considers himself "one of those classicists who think that there's this broad umbrella called the humanities that embraces every facet of human existence and human understanding. The arts are simply part of the humanities."

By training, Romanstein is a musicologista music historian. He earned a master's degree in choral conducting, then decided to pursue a doctoral degree in musicology from the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, an environment Romanstein appreciated because it combined scholarship with artistic expression.

"I did that because I really do have this firm belief that a thorough understanding of history enables one to make informed, thoughtful, and in that case artistic choices, and I think the same thing about life," he says.

As part of his study of music and culture of the Italian Renaissance, Romanstein traveled to Italy on sabbatical from Saint Lawrence University, where he was chair of the department of music for nine years. In Italy, he studied Italian and music, and he continued learning the language once he returned to the United States.

Romanstein's passion for teaching, cultures, and languages can be seen in the projects undertaken by the Minnesota Humanities Center, which aims to encourage literacy in its immigrant communities.

The center has published a series of children's books in Hmong and English to encourage literacy in Minnesota's Hmong populationthe largest in the world outside of Laos. For another large immigrant group, the center has developed books of folk tales in Somali.

"It's important to us to help new Minnesotans, Somali and Hmong in particular, to embrace American life, American culture, and American democracy, but at the same time we want them to be able to preserve their own heritagethe language and traditions and customs of their homeland," Romanstein says.

The center also provides teachers with programs on history and culture. The Minnesota Humanities Center plans about twenty such seminars each year, and nearly every one fills to capacity and has a waiting list. Teachers set the agenda by telling the center what information they need, and the center works to provide them with it. This year, the center offered a five-part series on Islam and Islamic civilization, a seven-part series on revolutions in American history, and a seminar on the Cold War.

"The future of Minnesota really depends upon the ability of our teachers to educate our students for life in the twenty-first century," Romanstein says. "The teachers know that, all the research shows that, the U.S. Department of Education says thatI don't think there's any disagreement about it. The question is, how can you do it most effectively and most efficiently?"

Romanstein recalls that when he was in school, "there was this wonderful thing called the teacher's book. That was the book that held all the secrets and all the anecdotes and all the pictures and all the stuff you really needed to know. The truth is, in 2006 there's not really a teacher's book anymore; if there is, it's a thing called the Internet." By helping teachers wade through information available on the Internet, the center hopes teachers will be able to find information suitable for the classroom more easily.

"When you're talking about things like Islam or about teaching world religions and history, you have to be careful that you're not pushing a political agenda, that what you're doing is helping teachers evaluate material for themselves," Romanstein says.

Lori Creel, a senior at the University of Alabama, was an intern at NEH.