Applications Being Accepted for 2020 SDHC Scholars

Speakers, Humanities Discussion Leaders Vital to SDHC's Mission

The South Dakota Humanities Council's mission is to bring humanities programs to all areas of South Dakota, from the biggest cities of Sioux Falls and Rapid City to the little towns of Wessington Springs, Keystone and Platte.

Humanities scholars — speakers and discussion leaders — are a vital part of SDHC's effort to reach even the smallest communities with affordable, high-quality humanities programs. For just $50, groups can listen to tales of Jesse James being chased across Dakota Territory or receive lessons from a qualified educator on how to write creatively or create a homemade musical instrument.

SDHC encourages humanities experts who would like to share their knowledge with fellow South Dakotans to apply to join the South Dakota Humanities Council roster of Speakers Bureau scholars who will lead humanities programs on behalf of the organization in 2020. Applications open Oct. 31.

SDHC scholar Joyce Jefferson (middle) during a past presentation with fellow scholars Lillian Witt (left) and Belinda Joe. SDHC scholars perform Chautauqua programs like this one, lead reading discussions and present on various areas of expertise as part

SDHC scholar Joyce Jefferson (middle) presents a Speakers Bureau Chautauqua program with fellow scholars Lillian Witt (left) and Geraldine Goes In Center. SDHC scholars perform Chautauqua programs, lead reading discussions and present information on various areas of their expertise as part of SDHC's Speakers Bureau.

Scholars are paid stipends to speak to groups — which can host them for just $50 — about topics pertinent to their area of expertise. They can also lead discussions about books from SDHC's lending library, including the annual One Book South Dakota. In 2019 scholars discussed "Neither Wolf nor Dog" by Kent Nerburn. The 2020 selection has not yet been announced.

Successful applicants will be listed in the printed 2020 SDHC Program Catalog and on the SDHC website. Applications are accepted Oct. 31 through Dec. 15.

Purpose of Speakers Bureau Programs

The South Dakota Humanities Council was founded in 1972 to celebrate literature, promote civil conversation and tell the stories that define our state. We accomplish this mission by supporting and promoting public programming in the humanities, including grant-funded programs, our annual South Dakota Festival of Books and the Speakers Bureau.

Members of our Speakers Bureau are a valuable extension of the South Dakota Humanities Council. Our uniquely qualified and highly educated experts use their diverse knowledge and expertise to deliver specialized programs to all South Dakotans, including rural populations with limited opportunities for cultural programming. 

These scholar presentations promote thoughtful conversation, broaden learning opportunities and build community. Browse the 2019 lineup below to find examples of the type of speakers typically featured on our roster, which includes distinguished professors, creative writing teachers, Chautauqua performers and more.


Scholars must be trained in one of the humanities disciplines, possess an M.A. or Ph.D., or have a career and personal history that show commitment to the humanities (tribal elders, experienced Chautauqua performers and more).

Our Speakers Bureau is all-inclusive, and we encourage topics that promote diversity, such as traditional Lakota spirituality. SDHC uses the following humanities definition as a basis for deciding whether applicants' proposed programs apply to the humanities:

"The term 'humanities' includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life."

- From --National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, 1965, as amended

Applicants are not required to be South Dakota residents. However, supported programs must take place in South Dakota.

Jean Patrick performs her

Jean Patrick performs her "The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth" presentation as part of the SDHC Speakers Bureau.


Scholars are paid a $150 stipend, or $200 if travel is over 240 miles round trip (within South Dakota) or if they make more than one presentation in a day. In the case of multi-day performances, wages are $75 for each additional day presentation is performed.  

SDHC pays state rate for mileage (42 cents per mile) and lodging — $75 plus tax year-round (equal to $79.88 including 6.5 percent tax).

Rates are subject to change.

Scholar Hosts

Organizations apply to host a scholar through the South Dakota Humanities Council for a $50 application fee. Typical applicants include libraries, museums, historic sites, historical societies, parks, tribal entities, K-12 schools, colleges and universities, as well as community centers and agencies that are open to the public. Programs must take place within the state.

Scholar Categories

Interested scholars can apply to be reading group discussion leaders, Speakers Bureau presenters, or both.

From analyzing current events to discussing historical time periods or providing writing advice, Speakers Bureau scholars present programs on a variety of humanities topics suitable for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Chautauqua speakers animate history with their costumed impressions of various historical figures, from Native American women in the era of the Wounded Knee Massacre to famous South Dakotans such as Calvin Mellette (the first governor of South Dakota), Amelia Earhart, outlaw Tom O'Day and many more.

Reviews from 2018 Programs

Scholar programs consistently receive positive reviews from people who attend. Below are examples from 2018 programs.

  • The Life and Music of Badger Clark with Pegie Douglas: "Great history story in song and poems - truly enhances our organization and adds so much value to our purpose and goals."

  • Tom O'Day with Ray Maple (Chautauqua): "Very informative program. Benefits the community through historic knowledge of our home."

  • Healing Our Shared Past, Present, and Future: The Hiawatha Indian Insane Asylum with Ann Dilenschneider and Jerry Fogg: "Very effective. Education is the first step to healing. Learning about the past allows us to learn from our mistakes."

  • (2019 One Book SD) "Neither Wolf nor Dog" Discussion with James Sullivan: "More book discussions! Thanks for providing the copies!"
2019 One Book author Kent Nerburn speaks in Sioux Falls as part of his author tour. SDHC scholars can lead reading group discussions about the current One Book South Dakota or other selections from the SDHC Lending Library.

2019 One Book author Kent Nerburn speaks in Sioux Falls as part of his author tour. His book "Neither Wolf nor Dog" was discussed by reading groups across the state in 2019. SDHC scholars can lead reading group discussions about the current One Book South Dakota or other selections from the SDHC Lending Library. 

Traditional Programs Cross Humanities Disciplines

Our speakers also present programs that cross humanities disciplines. They explore topics such as traditional Lakota spirituality and the role of ceremony in today's ever-changing world; high-profile criminal trials related to the Dakota Uprising of 1862 and more.

Book discussion scholars can lead groups through conversations about the One Book South Dakota or any number of titles from the SDHC lending library through our Book Club to Go program.

Approved applicants will be listed in the printed 2020 SDHC Program Catalog and on the SDHC website. Our committee will review applications in early January, and we will distribute the catalog in March 2020. Beginning this year, scholars will also submit a one to three-minute video explaining their presentations that will be linked to their catalog information.

For questions about the 2020 application process, email

Or call the SDHC office at (605) 688-6113. Scholars accepted into the Speakers Bureau will list one program description in the printed catalog and up to five programs total on the website.

Apply Now!

Interested in applying to be a 2020 scholar? Click the link below to find out more information and to access the application, which will be available Oct. 31.