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Historians Gather in West Plains for Annual Ozarks Symposium

Missouri State University West Plains

The Ozarks Studies Symposium returns for its ninth year this weekend in West Plains.

The event, which features exhibitions of history and culture, is summed up by Dr. Phil Howerton, associate professor of English and coordinator of the symposium, “to foster an understanding and preservation of the history and culture of the region.”

This year’s theme is “The Lure of the Ozarks.” The Symposium began as a conference at Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas called “the Talking Ozarks” before it was moved to West Plains. Dr. Howerton says the location of the symposium in the city creates a perfect fit.

“As a lot of people in the area say, ‘West Plains is a hundred miles from anywhere. It is a hundred miles to Springfield, it’s a hundred miles to Harrison, Arkansas and so on, and West Plains is sort of at the heart of the most beautiful part of the Ozarks.”

Roughly 150 people attended last year’s symposium. And organizers are working to attract more in part by bringing in additional speakers. This year there are 20, three more than the previous year. The presenters come from all over United States, and internationally, including one from Tokyo. That’s due in part to a $2,060 grant from the Missouri Humanities Council.

This is not the first year the symposium has received a grant from the MHC.  Steve Belko, the executive director of Missouri Humanities Council, says the symposium fits all of the criteria for a grant from MHC.

“It obviously has to serve the humanities in the state of Missouri to enrich the lives of our citizens in various capacities, and this one hit the bullseye,” says Belko.

How does it enrich the lives of citizens in Missouri?  Dr. Howerton explains.

“The Ozarks has always been shrouded in myth and stereotype, and much of it negative, and we see this as an opportunity to take a close look beyond the façade, at the complex reality what the Ozarks is really all about.”

Entrance to the symposium, which runs Sept. 17-19, is free. It will be held at the West Plains Civic Center. Dr. Steve Wiegenstein, associate dean for academic affairs and dean of graduate studies at Columbia College, will deliver the keynote address. Learn more about the symposium here.

The MHC wants to focus more on the Ozarks region moving forward. A new magazine associated with the MHC called “MO Humanities” is coming out in two weeks. The second issue in the spring will feature stories from the Ozarks where it will feature the West Plains Symposium and events like it that have received grants.

Dr. Howerton believes the work the MHC will do with the magazine will help the Symposium grow and attract the publication’s readers in future years.

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