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Viva Florida: Celebrating 500 years of Florida history

February 15, 2013 | By Federal/State Partnership Staff

In 1513, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Léon arrived on the southern Atlantic coast of what is now the United States, declaring the land to be “La Florida.” Now, 500 years later, the Florida Humanities Council, in conjunction with the Florida Department of State, is celebrating the Quincentenary of Ponce de Léon’s landing with the year-long celebration Viva Florida 500. The Florida Humanities Council has worked hard to create resources and plan events that will help Floridians explore their state’s stories, from 500 years ago through today.

The arrival of the Spanish 500 years ago helped spark a historic exchange between two very different worlds, old and new, that lead to the multicultural phenomenon present today in Florida, as well as across the United States. As Florida Humanities Council executive director Janine Farver notes, “This historic occasion provides us with an opportunity to place the Florida story in context and to expand the narrative of American history to include its Spanish colonial past. It also asks us to look at our relationship with Spain and the impact it has had on Florida and our relationship to the Caribbean and Latin America.”

To commemorate Florida’s 500th anniversary, the Florida Humanities Council is sponsoring the following programs, events, and resources:

  • State-wide televised History Moments: The Florida Humanities Council is producing Florida History Moments, short, lively features about the state’s long and varied past. These 30 spots, created by WPBT-TV Miami, will air on public television stations statewide. Stories covered will include Ponce de Léon’s landing, the first Thanksgiving in St. Augustine, and the early tribes of Florida.
  • Special issue of FORUM Magazine: FORUM, FHC’s magazine published triannually, offers lively, insightful looks at Florida people, events, and ideas that shaped the past and affect the present. ¡Viva Florida!, FHC’s issue dedicated to celebrating the state’s 500 years of Spanish heritage, is filled with stories and myths of Spanish Florida.
  • Spring in Spain: This spring, join FHC for a special historical and cultural “Gathering,” with a trip to Spain! Lead by scholar Dr. Michael J. Francis, the trip will provide travelers insights into Florida’s connections to Spain while sightseeing through rural towns and medieval cities.
  • Dreamers & Schemers: History comes alive on stage during FHC’s statewide roadshow, “Dreamers & Schemers: An Evening with Great Floridians.” Florida has always meant different things to different people, from a land of freedom and opportunity, to white-sand beaches and palm trees. Historical figures will describe their hopes for Florida—and for themselves.
  • Teaching Florida: For Florida’s 500th anniversary, FHC launched the website, designed to bring the study of Florida to classrooms around the state. The site’s debut unit is on Florida’s Spanish Colonial past and features articles on colonial St. Augustine, Florida’s original Native American inhabitants, and black society in colonial Florida.
  • And much more! More features and events are available on the Florida Humanities Council’s website.

For more information on the statewide Viva Florida 500 celebration, visit