Reflecting on the 2020 Kentucky History Awards

Reflecting on the 2020 Kentucky History Awards

by Dr. Amanda Higgins, Community Engagement Administrator, Kentucky Historical Society.

The Kentucky History Awards are a highlight of my year. Each November, KHS honors the outstanding work of history-focused individuals and organizations for their programs, publications, and individual accomplishments that took place during the preceding year. Nominations come from all corners of the Commonwealth and are reviewed by a panel of three judges. Winners are notified of their awards in August and gather in Frankfort for the November awards ceremony. Over the past many years, we’ve laughed—I’ve even cried a bit—and cheered in the House Chamber of the Old State Capitol. Sharing space with and celebrating the accomplishment of talented colleagues and history organizations is an annual reminder of the strength of the history community in the commonwealth. But, like most things this year, the 2020 Kentucky History Awards were a bit different.

We made the decision before we alerted winners to pivot toward a virtual awards program out of an abundance of caution for our colleagues and our own staff. Because we didn’t know the trajectory the pandemic would take, we didn’t want to scramble in the fall or to limit the number of folks who could celebrate with us in person. Moving to a virtual format, at least temporarily,

allowed us to showcase our award winners’ work and personalities in ways that were not as easily done in an in-person ceremony. Greg Hardison, the Kentucky Historical Society’s Creative Engagement Specialist, traveled to awardees and filmed interviews with winners and those who work closely on projects. As you can see in the video, we could show and not just talk about the work of the Lincoln County Historical Society volunteers and the Clay County Historical Society. We could hear the passion and expertise the staff of the Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate brings to their Traces: Enslaved at Ashland Tour each day. We can see the meticulous restoration Tim Tomes made possible in Louisville and the dedication of our education and publication award winners bring to their programs, classrooms, books, and journals.

The virtual format allows us to share these accomplishments with a much wider audience. Even without a pandemic, only a 100 or so people can fit in the House Chamber. And while the room is always full, by broadcasting the ceremony so many more people—members of the organizations we honor, parents and children and admirers alike, inside the commonwealth and beyond our borders—can share in the experience. This change, necessitated by a highly contagious virus, also helped us to present a more inclusive and accessible program. I am thankful for and proud of my creative and hardworking colleagues at KHS who made this program possible.

I hope we’re able to gather together in 2021, to celebrate the innovative ways Kentucky history organizations and those working on history projects in the commonwealth continued their work throughout 2020 and 2021.  Until then, I will return to the 2020 award ceremony and marvel at my friends and colleagues across Kentucky—their strength and resilience, their creativity and passion. I hope you will too.

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