Odyssey Project’s Night of the Living Humanities makes history feel real

Odyssey Project Night of the Living Humanities attendees

Novelist Zora Neale Hurston greeted guests at the door of the University Club, surprisingly lively for a woman born in the 19th century. Abraham Lincoln was in a similarly jolly mood, the Civil War a distant memory. Legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein traded Chopin for jazz standards in the packed University Club lobby.

These historical figures came to life—along with Jane Austen, J.S. Bach, Frida Kahlo, and a passel of women’s suffragists—courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Odyssey Project. In an Oct. 27 fundraiser called Night of the Living Humanities, students, staff members, and donors dressed up as the philosophers, artists, and political figures who are featured in Odyssey’s two-semester humanities class.

The class is geared toward low-income adults dealing with single parenthood, homelessness, addiction, incarceration, depression, domestic abuse, and other barriers to their education. They earn six credits in English from UW-Madison, as well as gain critical thinking skills and a sense of empowerment. Many go on to complete a college degree and find meaningful work in the community.

While their parents are in class, the children of Odyssey students also write, create, and perform in Odyssey Junior. Whole families are transformed through this two-generation approach.

If you missed Night of the Living Humanities, you can check out the scene below. To learn more about the Odyssey Project, contact director Emily Auerbach (a.k.a. Jane Austen), emily.auerbach@wisc.edu, 608-262-3733. To donate, see here.