The Nebraska Humanities Council and Homestead National Monument of America are hosting the Chautauqua: Free Land? 1862 and the Shaping of Modern America from May 20 to May 25, 2012 in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Homestead Act. The Chautauqua big tent will be erected at the Monument on the grounds of the first homesteader's, Daniel and Agnes Freeman, original homestead patent.
The Chautauqua Free Land will engage participants in the collective consequences of the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railway Act, and the Morrill Act on Nebraska, the Great Plains, and the United States as a nation.
The impact of these three pieces of legislation, all passed within six weeks of each other in 1862, will be looked at through the scholarly interpretations of six well-known historical figures: Union general and railroad builder Grenville Dodge, author Willa Cather, Ponca chief Standing Bear, author and homesteader Laura Ingalls Wilder, and homesteader and inventor George Washington Carver, with author and humorist Mark Twain as moderator.
Each Chautauqua performer will help audiences examine five themes that were set in motion by the 1862 legislation and that remain pertinent today: the unfolding of the "free soil, free labor" belief held by the policy-makers of the time; the speedy economic development of the West and the nation, especially through the construction of transcontinental railroads; the dislodgment of Native Americans; a broader access to public education that resulted in more options for people of the West; and an increasingly gentrified and educated populace—both emigrants and immigrants—who had the resources for social mobility in an evolving American West.
The Homestead Act of 1862 document will be on loan from the National Archives from April 25 to May 28 at Homestead National Monument of America. Its visit will commemorate the May 20 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Homestead Act with an evening program featuring a variety of special guests, including the historical figures of the Chautauqua.
Chautauqua events will continue May 21-25 with a different scholar portraying his or her character each evening under the tent. Each will present a 40-minute, first-person presentation as the historical character, and then answer questions. Workshops for children and adults along with other activities will be held during the day throughout Chautauqua week.