By: Cindy Bear, Guest Contributor

In 1926 one person prevented the final destruction of a massive sand mound used as a burial place by the Calusa people from about A.D. 1000 to 1700. Now, the story of Captain John Smith is shared on an interpretive sign at the Randell Research Center’s Calusa Heritage Trail at Pineland. Florida Humanities Council grant funds made it possible for us to develop that sign, and two others, for an expanded Calusa Heritage Trail through a newly acquired and restored five-acre property. Colorful illustrations by artist Merald Clark serve as “portals” drawing the visitor into scenes happening in earlier times at the location of the signs as based on archaeological research conducted at the Center. Text from historical and archaeological sources provided facts and details for our text.

The trail takes visitors along a preserved portion of the Calusa-dug waterway that once circled the burial mound we now call the Smith Mound in honor of Captain Smith’s heroics. A bench shaded by oak trees freed from invasive exotic plants that were previously choking native vegetation is dedicated “In Memory of the Calusa People.” At this spot, the sign describes and depicts the shape and vast size of the mound and its waterway when it stood undisturbed in this part of the Calusa town. Another scene shows a deceased young Calusa man attended at his burial place. The image transitions to the same place years later as family members return to his grave with food offerings placed upon mats, as described by Jesuit priests in 1743.

Low Mound, a midden-mound dating to about A.D. 300 – 400, is also accessed by the looped trail. Our sign explains that the remains of 23 different fish species uncovered in 1992 by archaeologists are evidence that people here relied on the Pine Island Sound estuary. The discovery of 1800-year-old papaya seeds at Pineland is shown through a drawing of ripe fruit being gathered near the midden. These people lived through a warm and stormy time and the shoreline was further east than the current Pineland shoreline. The differences between sea level rises of the past and those being experienced by Floridians today is explained on the sign with text and graphics.

Taken together, the signs allow visitors to transcend a divide between themselves and the people who lived long ago in the places they are treading. Here they can contemplate the power of art and science to allow an understanding of that which we cannot see, hear the sound of the wind through trees sprouted from seeds of trees that shaded the walk of a Calusa family, be reassured that we can all make a difference, and find tranquility and peace of mind amid one of Florida’s special heritage spaces.

You can visit the Randell Research Center’s Calusa Heritage Trail seven days a week, sunup to sundown. A picnic area is available. The Visitor Center, with restrooms, gift shop and restrooms is open Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information: or call 239-283-2062.


Cindy Bear is the coordinator of the Calusa Heritage Trail at the Randell Research Center in Pineland.

My sixth grade teacher, Don Anders, read poetry to the class each Friday afternoon. He read from The Best Loved Poems of the American People and liked to recite “Casey at the Bat” and its successors, “Casey’s Revenge” and “Casey Twenty Years Later.” These were wonderful stories of overconfidence, failure, and redemption.

Aside from the astounding accomplishment of making poetry interesting to a 12-year old boy, Mr. Anders also taught that one could better understand sports, and any other day-to-day life experience, through the lens of the humanities. Even fictional stories in a large anthology of poems could influence how we handled real life.

I loved Mr. Anders and those Friday afternoons listening to him read poems which rhymed. We were all wiser because he helped us understand the perspectives of others. When asked why one should read literature, C.S. Lewis said:

“We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to see with other eyes, to imagine other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as our own. Literature is a series of windows, even of doors.” The humanities help us see with other eyes.

Accordingly, I often ask others how the humanities have influenced your life. Have you read a book which changed you, met a person who taught you, or wrestled with a moral challenge which formed your character?

The most powerful responses, however, come when I ask people to imagine a life without the humanities; without an understanding of history, or access to books or the opportunity to discuss religion, philosophy or ethics. I can’t imagine such a life. I can’t imagine how a free nation, or a free market, survives when the humanities are ignored or forgotten.

If we just stopped promoting the humanities . . . stopped reading history and literature and philosophy . . . if we discontinued the family reading programs and grants to community organizations around the state . . . if we stopped funding speakers and teachers and high school poetry competitions, would it matter to you? If it does, would you tell me why? Drop me a line at Florida Humanities Council, 599 Second Street S, St. Petersburg FL 33701 or email

What’s your favorite Florida line?

Floridians enjoy a fantastic literary smorgasbord of novels, nonfiction, poetry, and more. So many authors, past and present, have written great insights about our state. What’s your favorite sentence about Florida written by an author? We love this one from the poem “Florida” by poet Elizabeth Bishop: “The state with the prettiest name, the state that floats in brackish water, held together by mangrave roots…” And there’s the great line by historian Michael Gannon: “By the time the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, Saint Augustine was up for urban renewal.”

What’s your favorite Florida line? Below, please write the sentence you love, the name of the author, and the title of the book, poem, etc., where it appears. We’ll include some of the best in our fall issue of FORUM magazine, which features award-winning Florida authors.

Meet Telling: Southwest Veteran Joseph Cofield

The Florida Humanities Council partners with The Telling Project, a national effort to bring veterans’ stories of military service to local communities. “Telling: Southwest Florida” features four veterans from the Army and Marine Corps.

Each week, we will tell you a little more about each veteran. Today, we spotlight Joseph Cofield, U.S. Army veteran.

Joseph Cofield first joined the Army in 1976, starting with the Delayed Entry Program. His enlistment came after the conclusion of the Vietnam War, but tensions with the Soviet Union were beginning to increase. “Serving during the Cold War taught me why our constitution and our nation are so special,” Cofield says. He initially believed training would take place at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, but was eventually transferred to Fort Gordon, Georgia.

After graduating from basic training, Joseph entered Advanced Individual Training at Fort Gordon, assigned as a signal specialist. A majority of Joseph’s 21 years of military service occurred in Europe, particularly Germany. Stateside tours include Fort Stewart, Georgia; Fort Gordon, Georgia; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. During his Army service, Cofield also trained as a Chaplain Assistance as a secondary MOS.

Once he retired from the military, Joseph pursued his passion for education. “It took me 25 years to achieve my dream but I am proof that hard work, dedication, and commitment can make your dream a reality,” Cofield explained. “I want everyone to know that the American Dream is still alive and well.” He believes his service provides an example to others. “My son and niece are now serving in the military and many family members are achieving college success because they saw how the military shaped my life even in civilian life. My story is the shaping of a patriot and citizen.”

Joseph runs Constitution Project, Inc. The goal of the organization is to give every fifth grade student in the state of Florida a pocket U.S. Constitution booklet, a population of over 200,000 students.

Remembering Mike Gannon

Michael Gannon’s remarkable life touched many thousands of Floridians. A school dropout who grew up in historic St. Augustine, he went on to become an eminent Florida historian. Along the way he was a radio sportscaster, a Catholic priest, a distinguished professor at the University of Florida, a civil rights activist, and an award-winning teacher and writer. For decades, he enriched the programs of the Florida Humanities Council by sharing his knowledge, always leavened with his signature wit. Gannon died April 10, 2017, at age 89.

Gannon’s Strategy for Floridians

To entice newcomers to become Floridians, Gannon wrote a short, easily read history of the state. He explains why:

More on Mike Gannon

  • Read this 2010 FORUM article, when Gannon was named the first recipient of the Florida Humanities Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing | Here
  • The color of Gannon’s life is captured in this remembrance by historian Gary Mormino, Florida Humanities Council scholar-in-residence | Here


Meet Telling: Southwest Veteran Timothy Durham

The Florida Humanities Council partners with The Telling Project, a national effort to bring veterans’ stories of military service to local communities. “Telling: Southwest Florida” features five veterans from the Army and Marine Corps. Three performances will occur at the end of the month in Naples and Fort Myers.

Each week, we will tell you a little more about each veteran. Today, we spotlight Timothy Durham, a U.S. Army Sergeant.

Timothy Durham first enlisted in the Army in 1976, after finishing high school. ”My family has a long tradition of serving during wartime,” Durham explains. His first assignment was in Germany, where he spent time in a tank company on the East-West German border. Following his departure from active duty military in 1983, Durham attended college in New Jersey and joined a reserve unit, serving as a drill sergeant.

Following the September 11th attacks, and after a fifteen year separation from the military, Durham rejoined enlisting in the Florida National Guard. “I put my civilian career on hold and, at the age of 47 with a 5-year old daughter at home.” His unit, the 651st Military Police Company, deployed to Iraq in September 2005. Tim’s unit was responsible for transporting detainees throughout Iraq. Spending a year in the country, Durham’s unit performed over 100 transportation missions, including the single largest transfer of detainees in theater. The 651st suffered a direct hit from an IED two days before Christmas in 2005. Durham was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Tim left in 2006, returning to his civilian job at Collier County. He worked for four years as the Chief Deputy for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections. He currently works as the Executive Manager for Corporate Business Operations for Collier County.

While patrolling the German border they heard an explosion, Tim shares the story.

Meet Telling: Southwest Veteran Jason Calabrese

The Florida Humanities Council partners with The Telling Project, a national effort to bring veterans’ stories of military service to local communities. “Telling: Southwest Florida” features five veterans from the Army and Marine Corps. Three performances will occur at the end of the month in Naples and Fort Myers.

Each week, we will tell you a little more about each veteran. Today, we spotlight Jason Calabrese, a U.S. Army Sergeant.

Jason Calabrese joined the United States Army after the September 11th attacks in 2001. He served in the Army from 2002-2005. One of his initial deployments was to Germany. He is a current National Guard Reserve Member. He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2005 with the 1st Infantry Division.

“My experiences, and those who served with me, are unknown to most civilians state side,” Jason told us. “It’s

Reserve your seat
Performance Schedule:

Florida Gulf Coast University
10501 FGCU Blvd S, Fort Myers
Get Directions.

May 4 at 7pm

This program contains adult language and themes of war and combat violence. Audience discretion is advised.

akin to being an astronaut who just returned from the moon. People want to know what it was like, and I want to share so the memories are not lost.”

Jason uses his experience in the Army as an inspiration for writing. In addition to serving as a Human Resources Specialist with the 164th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, Jason is a professor of English at Florida Southwestern State College.

To learn more about Jason’s story, and to hear from four other military veterans, join us for Telling: Southwest Florida later this month.

Below is one of the poems Jason wrote about his military experience.

The Shores and Shoals of Iraq

From Baghdad’s straights to Port Fallujah,
the tides of the past have receded back
and Democracies’ setting sail to the
Shores and shoals inside of Iraq.

And back home we’re all on board
And greet our leader with applause.
We tow the line to distant shores
All for our Captain’s worthy cause.

He’s set the course ahead
And checked the maps and charts,
for us infidels whose minds are set
on winning Muslim hearts.

And if we’re stung by seaward pests
or bugs that bite when they attack,
we’ll use great big gaping nets
to catch those pesky gnats.

And we’ll sail ‘till the Captain yells
“Land ho, we’re safe from harm.”
And we’ll greet our Muslim brothers
with shaloms and open arms.

And the Sunni’s will dance and sing
and hold the Shiite’s hands
as the bells of liberty ring
bringing peace throughout the land.

And when insurgents exchange
olive branches for their guns
then and there we’ll know
our work is truly done.

And when we see a splashing tail
Or red sky at the dawn,
we’ll cast off for the next great whale
Ahab sets his sights upon.

Teacher Spotlight: Steven Hammerman

Around the state of Florida, teachers go above and beyond to bring the best educational opportunities to their students. Today, we wanted to highlight one of these teachers. Do you know a K-12 teacher who deserves a spotlight? Email our Education Program Director Dr. Jacqui May.

Steven Hammerman is the Social Science Director of the Weiss School in Palm Beach County. Prior to that position, Steven taught at Falcon Cove in Broward County. He previously attended Florida Humanities Council educator workshops, and found an opportunity to expand on those experiences.

What was your first FHC seminar experience?

I first attended “La Florida,” a workshop which explores Spanish Colonial Florida. We spent the weekend in St. Augustine with Dr. Michael Francis learning about the oldest settlement in North America.

What is your impression of that experience?

Eye opening. I grew up in New York and lived in Florida for 18 years without ever visiting St. Augustine. My limited knowledge of the St. Augustine story came from misleading oral and textual history.  This experience gave me the depth and detail that only access to primary documents and interaction with experts in their fields and my peers from around the state could provide.

Do you have a particular highlight from the program?

As an avid scuba diver and instructor, I was intrigued by the research of Dr. Greg Cook, a marine archeologist from the University of West Florida and a presenter. Dr. Cook talked about the ill-fated Tristan de Luna expedition near Pensacola. Dr. Cook conducts underwater archaeology efforts to locate the ship and learn more about the journey.

  • Students from the Weiss School observe the dive on a platform above.

  • Dr. Greg Cook, left, and Steven prepare for a dive.

Has there been any luck in applying what you learned in the workshop?

Dr. Cook and his graduate students helped me organize a field experience for my 7th graders. Thirteen students traveled to Pensacola with me to observe a marine archeology excavation of the de Luna shipwreck! The students watched the excavation from a dive platform via live video feed. We also explored important historical sites relating to the area.

Lately, a number of articles talk about the challenges educators face. For new teachers coming into the profession, what advice would you offer?

Make your continuing education and enrichment part of your personal annual plan. Take advantage of resources and programs to grow as an individual and as an educator. This makes teaching fun and interesting for you, which, in-turn, makes learning fun and interesting for your students.

Anything is possible. Don’t let yourself get jammed-up and miss out on opportunities for you or your students. Be a lifelong learner with a passion for your content and watch that translate to student interest, growth, and success.

The Florida Humanities Council sponsors educator workshops every school year and summer. For more details, visit

Florida Students Recite Poetry

On Saturday, March 11, nearly fifty students representing schools and districts across the state gathered in Tampa for the state’s Poetry Out Loud competition. These young poets practiced their craft for months, first competing in classrooms and later with other students. School winners then traveled to the University of South Florida for the opportunity for scholarships, funds for schools to purchase poetry books, and the chance to compete in the national competition in April.

Each poet is required to memorize three poems of their choice, and all poets recite their first two poems. The top ten poets then recite their third poem in the final round in order to determine the state champions.

Physical presence, voice and articulation, appropriateness of dramatization, evidence of understanding, and accuracy of the recitation are some of the judgment criterion for presentations. Some of Tampa Bay’s biggest consumers of literature served as judges for the event. This included Dr. Helen Wallace, St. Petersburg’s Poet Laureate; Dr. Jay Hopler, a professor of English at the University of South Florida; and Maureen McDole, the founder of Keep St. Pete Lit.

And the winners are…

Reed Worrell, a senior from SAIL High School in Tallahassee, placed third in the competition. He says the top historical figure he would like to meet is Shakespeare. “I could go ask him how he thinks his plays should really be interpreted, and then I could tell people how it should really be done,” he argued.

Nia Getfield, a junior at Haines City High School, took second prize. Nia enjoys learning about the Harlem Renaissance and some of the era’s most famous figures like Marcus Garvey. As part of her future plans, Nia will apply to Marymount Manhattan College in New York City.

Alexis Schuster, a junior from Winter Park High School, was named Florida’s Poetry Out Loud champion. She recited the poems “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” by Adam Zagajewski; “Sanctuary,” by Jean Valentine; and “The Days Gone By,” by James Whitcomb Riley.

Alexis enjoys writing, volunteering, and public speaking. Her favorite book is The Tenth of December, by George Sanders. “It is all very beautiful and intricate,” she says.  “And it does a wonderful job of creating worlds in a unique and strangely accessible way.”

When asked which historical era she would prefer to live in, Alexis insisted on the present. “Right now, the world is a terrible place in many ways. The only way to better the world is to start from now, not the past.”

We congratulate all poets, our runners up, and state champion for all their hard work. Alexis will compete in the national finals April 25-26 at The George Washington University for an opportunity to win a college scholarship. More info about the national competition can be found on the Poetry Out Loud website.

How do the humanities
anchor democracy?

We may live in a STEM-focused world, but the humanities remain crucial in helping us understand one another. And that is key to sustaining our democracy, writes Steve Seibert, our executive director. Read his thought-provoking essay, below.

In Praise of the Humanities
By Steven Merritt Seibert

Six Tampa Bay veterans took the stage to tell their stories of war. One, handsome and athletic, explained how he lost his leg from a roadside bomb explosion in Baghdad. He wears a blade-runner prosthetic and now operates a national nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans improve mental health through physical activity. One suffered traumatic brain injury in combat and, once home, threatened suicide. His wife joined him as they described their joint process of recovery. A Marine told of her rape by a fellow Marine and how she rebuilt her life. She now counsels other victims. After hearing these powerful accounts, the audience was invited to ask questions and tell their own stories.

Part of the national Telling Project, this was one of a series of Florida Humanities Council public programs across the state giving veterans a platform to talk about what their service to us meant. In Orlando, for example, a Gold Star mother described the searing pain in her head the moment her son was shot in Iraq. In Pensacola, a Vietnam veteran described how he tried to numb painful war memories with alcohol. Hearing the stories gave me a profoundly deeper connection with another’s human experience. It changed how I understand the challenges veterans face both in uniform and at home.

In other words, The Telling Project is an exercise in the humanities.

The humanities explore our heritage, culture, values, and ideas. Whether expressed through a study of history, languages, or human culture; through literature, music, or the arts; or as a discussion of religion, philosophy, or law, the humanities help us understand each other.

The humanities often slip past our intellectual defenses by appealing first to our hearts. See the play, listen to the lecture, read the book, or watch the documentary and we are moved to see with new eyes or through the eyes of others. We become wiser and more empathetic. What we know to be true might be affirmed–-or challenged.

STEM is not the enemy of the humanities, any more than the left side of the brain is the enemy of the right.

Much of the current educational focus is on the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and math. These are crucial pursuits, of course. America’s legacy of invention, innovation, and scientific discovery forms a critical pillar of our national success and character. But STEM is not the enemy of the humanities, any more than the left side of the brain is the enemy of the right. In times past, the great mathematicians and scientists were also the great writers and political thinkers. Artists of historical significance–think Leonardo DaVinci–made profound mathematical and scientific connections. The initial humanities disciplines included grammar and logic but also arithmetic and geometry. The arts and sciences have always been two sides of the same coin. In the words of Apple founder Steve Jobs: It is “technology married with the humanities that yield us the results that make our hearts sing.”

Several prestigious medical schools recognize this interconnection. Yale, Stanford, and Harvard, as well as the Universities of Florida, South Florida, and Miami, all provide “medical humanities” programs that train in disciplines such as literature, philosophy, and ethics. Why? Because the best doctors are not just technically proficient, but also understand human nature, can talk with grieving or anxious patients, and have the depth to make tough ethical decisions. Research shows that doctors who are more empathetic “burn out” less, and that their patients trust them more and have better health outcomes. This leads to lower health care costs and fewer malpractice claims, Daniel Orlovich, a physician at Stanford Health Care, wrote in a 2016 article, “How medical humanities can help physician burnout.”

Some of America’s most successful business and technology leaders were initially educated not in business, but in the humanities, according to media reports. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman earned a degree in Philosophy from Oxford; Carly Fiorina (Hewlett-Packard) in Medieval History and Philosophy; Michael Eisner (Walt Disney Company) in English Literature and Theatre; and Howard Schultz (Starbucks) in Communications. National political leaders follow the same pattern. Some examples, as widely reported: Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, and Bernie Sanders were all undergraduate Political Science majors; Jeb Bush majored in Latin American Studies; Ben Carson in Psychology; and Donald Trump in Economics. These lists stretch around the world, but the point is simple: STEM and the humanities are mutually enriching. It takes a surprising breadth of knowledge to operate a hospital, a company, or a nation.

For over 2,000 years the humanities have played the additional role of anchoring democracy. The ancient Greeks considered competency in the humanities the baseline for self-government. One needed to know certain things in order to perform one’s civic duties. And so it remains today. The humanities are the key to developing the capacity of a free people to govern themselves.

As Thomas Jefferson explained, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free…it expects what never was and never will be.”

America was born from ideas; we were humanities-driven from the beginning.

Americans have always striven for knowledge. We read and build and invent. We discuss and quarrel and reform. America was born from ideas; we were humanities-driven from the beginning.

A working knowledge of history, law, civics, and philosophy protects our democracy, as does the ability to gently discuss these issues across the divides of race, age, gender, geography, education, and politics. Knowledge of foreign languages and cultures, economics and comparative religion is critical for keeping peace in a global economy. The humanities give us prepared voters, informed consumers, and productive workers. They foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong, a point made by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in its 2013 report, “The Heart of the Matter.”

A friend once hosted a gathering of high-ranking officials from the Netherlands. He started the meeting by thanking the country they represented for its critical financial assistance during the American Revolution. The officials expressed amazement that any American would have both the historical acumen and the humility to recognize how much the Dutch were responsible for our existence as a nation. The relationships created at that meeting continue today.

E Pluribus Unum; Out of Many, One. In a free and diverse society, the path to One is through the rich forest of the humanities. Along that path, we become mindful of the lessons of history, the differences in culture, and the power of ideas. Our Republic, including its component parts of business, government, and community, is protected by discovering shared values. Neither tyranny nor mob rule can deceive a people who understand each other. These are essential lessons, and now is the time to embrace them—not to diminish their importance.

The humanities tell the stories that tie us together and to the wisdom of the past. I write in praise because they inspire us to learn, to think, and to understand.

STEVEN MERRITT SEIBERT is the Executive Director of the Florida Humanities Council.