JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – In 3 years, 9 months, and 16 days, Missouri will turn 200 years old. To prepare for the Show-Me State’s birthday, the State Historical Society of Missouri (SHSMO) has scoured the state to meet Missourians and to learn their stories.
In 2013, the General Assembly asked the SHSMO to create a framework to commemorate Missouri’s decision to join the union. In June of this year, the society appointed Dr. Michael Sweeney, a Ph.D. historian of the American Jazz Museum, to coordinate the bicentennial. Since then, he and the SHSMO have been holding focus groups in 26 counties across the state to learn about their every history and what they would want from such a celebration.
“I think in the urban areas, particularly in St. Louis and Kansas City, we have such a small sense of the greatness of this state,” Sweeney said. “I have news for you, there are amazing people in this state, who have been nothing but friendly and engaging. I have so loved learning about them and learning about their homes and towns. I am exceedingly blessed to be doing this.”
To tell their stories, he and the society plan on creating a comprehensive online encyclopedia that would be chronicle the history and events that have shaped their communities. There are talks of a bicentennial gala.
The SHSMO also created the Show-Me award for national history day. The award is for students of all levels who are working on topics related to famous Missourians or Missouri history. Sweeney mentioned a community service initiative that would create a collective of volunteer groups that would allow for a greater investment in the statewide community.
Additionally, he wants to create an endorsement program that would create a media partnership with local events and a virtual exhibit that would display 200 objects that shaped Missourians’ history, representative of the 200 years Missouri has existed.
“On our most conservative days, we imagine that pulling that out of our own holdings, but I think on our most ambitious days – and frankly at this point, there’s no reason not to be ambitious – I would like to see something from every county,” Sweeney said. “I think it could be a story, it could be an artifact, it could be a work of art. As I’m traveling around this state, the kinds of creative expressions that I’m seeing just blows me away.”
As Sweeney and the SHSMO have traveled the state, he has encountered residents and stories that have challenged his academic perception of the state. Through his bicentennial celebration, he hoped that he could impress upon Missourians that despite their different regional, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds, they can come together.
“I certainly knew, before I started out on the road, that Missouri is a place of tremendous geographic and cultural diversity. I knew that. I didn’t really, know that, know that until I had been out on the road. My general sense is that everyone in this state recognizes that,” he said.
“My hope is that it’s local without being parochial,” Sweeney added. “I hope that what this project does is provide an opportunity to learn more about the distinctiveness of the various parts of this state, and its people and the towns and the geography. I think by doing this, you have a better sense of the whole.”
For more information about the upcoming event, visit missouri2021.org or their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/statehistoricalsocietyofmissouri/.
Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer