By Margaret Ford
“Digital media is so compelling and pervasive in our society that the humanities will have to embrace this technology or it’s going to be left behind,” says Margaret Ann Bollmeier.
Believing in film, video, and the Internet as increasingly important sources of cultural knowledge, Bollmeier helped establish the Humanities Media Center in Washington soon after becoming director of the state’s Commission for the Humanities in 1995.
“Technology has been a driving force in our state for several years,” she says,“and it was very compelling for us to take advantage of that, to get the humanities involved.”
Bollmeier had worked at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, where she was director of development. The media program in those days consisted of one camera and a film and video editing suite. Although the operation was small, it gave Bollmeier an opportunity to see what an effective tool it was for community filmmaking and preserving oral histories.
Currently, the Washington Commission for the Humanities (WCH) Media Center offers yearly film festivals and year-round workshops in oral history and video documentary. The center has cameras and studios for rent,and classes in the fundamentals of using equipment, creating and archiving community history, documentary filmmaking,and video editing.
“Since we can’t provide a lot of cash support, why not provide the means to create these community projects?” Bollmeier asks. She believes that the humanities must broaden its audience to attract those who teach and learn visually. WCH’s plans include establishing a documentary film center with other like-minded organizations. “What we really want to do is make this region known for supporting documentary filmmakers, and encourage documentary film as a vehicle for discussing community and highlighting humanities issues.”
Her vision to expand programming at WCH involved creating a website. “Shortly after my arrival we applied for the domain name ‘humanities.org,’ and to my great surprise, we got it.” The commission intends to capitalize on the domain name, not only on behalf of WCH ’s programs, but for the humanities overall. Bollmeier wants to see more interactive and substantive content on the site. She says,“My long-term vision is that we can use our site as a search engine for humanities--to be used by scholars, teachers looking for lesson plans,and anyone else who is looking for information on any number of topics.”
To realize these goals, the website will undergo revisions. Focusing on Washington State first, the site will feature local humanities organizations and their programs. Online programming will be available, including an online statewide book club featuring author recommendations, live writer chats,and questions for book club discussions. Site traffic has already increased by way of Port, WCH’s online magazine, which receives the lion’s share of hits.
Another initiative called the Campaign for Humanities will have a presence on the website and will lead to the creation of a statewide humanities festival. “Our goal is to make ‘humanities’ a household word,” Bollmeier says. Bollmeier was born and raised in Texas, practiced law there, and lived briefly in Washington. After her stint in Virginia she was drawn back to Washington, partly for the love of its diverse geography.
Traveling and storytelling are her favorite pastimes, the storytelling being an influence from her grandmother,who was a professor of folklore and storytelling at the University of Texas at Austin. “Now that I have two young children, I see how stories really shape and teach them about life--teach them to think and reason. I see a strong tie between our work in the humanities and raising them, because the humanities can be such a catalyst for positive change in individuals,” she says. “We have lofty goals at WCH, and if we succeed, even in small part, the world will be a better place for my children."