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Chautauqua & Chat with historical figures Rachel Carson, Junko Tabei, and Mardy Murie

In this webinar series you will learn about three historical figures: author who launched the Environmental movement, the first woman to summit Mt. Everest, and the "Grandmother of Conservation"

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Each Chautauqua & Chat webinar is FREE and features a 60-minute performance by a scholar who impersonates a significant historical figure. Attendees have the opportunity to ask questions of both the historical character and the scholar.

January 8th, 4pm CST impersonation of Rachel Carson

January 9th, 7pm CST impersonation of Junko Tabei

January 10th, 7pm CST impersonation of Mardy Murie


Before 1961, Rachel Carson was best known for her poetic, accessible writings about sea life that encouraged countless average Americans to think and care about nature. When she connected the mysterious deaths of animals to the new chemicals widely used by the government and individuals, Carson wrote Silent Spring. Her well-written, well-researched book, which was first previewed in The New Yorker, became an immediate best seller. Still considered one of the most important and influential books in US History, Silent Spring prompted an outcry from chemical companies. Carson faced the attacks on her character and gender with grace, humor, and dignity – rebuffing propaganda with facts and studies. She testified before the House and Senate on the dangers of DDT and similar chemicals shortly before her death in 1964. Now considered the mother of the modern environmental movement, Rachel Carson made our world a safer place. The formation of the EPA and Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Endangered Species Act, and the banning of DDT can all be tied to Carson's work, even if she did not live to see these fruits of her labor. In this presentation, you will meet Rachel Carson after the publication of Silent Spring.

In her 25 years as a storyteller and 18 years as teaching artist, Katie Knutson has delivered residencies, performances, and classes to around 40,000 children and adults on four continents. She has been a featured performer at international storytelling festivals in Italy and the United Arab Emirates, and has performed and taught in Chile and Canada. She is the Executive Director of Northeast Storytelling (NEST) and has served on the Boards of Story Arts of Minnesota (SAM), Northlands Storytelling Network, the National Storytelling Network (NSN), and Youth, Educators & Storytellers (YES). In addition to writing and curating the “New Voices” column in Storytelling Magazine for 9 years, Knutson also contributed to Tomorrow’s Storytellers Today (Cordi, Parkhurst Brothers, 2021), Science with Storytelling: Strategies for the K-5 Classroom (Stenson/Norfolk/Ford, McFarland, 2017), and Storytelling Strategies for Reaching and Teaching Children with Special Needs (Norfolk/Ford, Libraries Unlimited, 2018). She lives outside Minneapolis, MN where you can often find her digging in her garden, snuggling with her cats, playing board games with her family, or enjoying nature. Find out more about Katie and her company, Rippling Stories, at


Junko Tabei, the first woman ever to climb the summit of Mt. Everest and the Seven Summits, the tallest mountains on each continent, called herself an ordinary housewife. This mother of two children formed the Ladies Climbing Club, the first women from Japan to climb overseas mountains of over 8,000 ft.. In her 77-year lifespan she climbed over 130 mountains around the world, not to prove a point that women could do this, but simply because she loved traveling and climbing. She earned a Master’s degree in environment in her campaign to clean up debris on mountain ranges, and established humanitarian programs to assist people from her home region of Fukushima hit by disasters.  Ever optimistic and never defeated by setbacks, she pushed her cancer in the background while she traveled and encouraged people all over the world to climb their personal mountains, one step at a time.

Bowen Lyam Lee divides her time between cities, forests, and the ocean around Monterey, CA. She has been a teacher, a writer, an illustrator, and now, she tells stories, incorporating storytelling into all aspects of teaching. She conducts workshops on storytelling to teach educational content in national and regional education conferences. She has been conducting climate change conversations through storytelling, and inviting audiences to share their views and ideas about taking climate action and caring for the environment. She is a fifth generation Chinese American of Gold Rush ancestry. Her illustrious family of hard working immigrants are the core of her current work on a historical novel about Chinese Americans in California.


Mardy Murie (1902-2003) has been called the "Grandmother of Conservation." She was instrumental in the passage of the Wilderness Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILC) in 1980. She continued to speak and write on behalf of conservation through the 1980s and 90s. Mardy Murie grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, the first boomtown of the Alaska gold rush. Always up for an adventure, Olaus Murie, field biologist for the Biological Survey (now Fish and Wildlife), caught her attention with his knowledge and passion for wild places and the animals that inhabit them. The two married and began a lifetime of adventure, exploration, research, and activism. Come along as Mardy shares stories of their adventures through the Alaskan wilderness studying caribou and waterfowl. Watch her assert her place beside Olaus as his field assistant where she gains vast skills and knowledge. Find awe in how she continues exploring as a mother with children in tow. Then notice the transition from field studies to activism, taking more adventures into interior Alaska to make recommendations about which areas should be preserved into Wilderness. When Olaus dies, mourn with Mardy and marvel at her strength as she chooses to continue their activism, moving from secretary to testifier at congressional hearings. Mardy often hosted small gatherings of learners at her home in Moose, WY. People of all ages came to discuss conservation with her, to hear her stories, and to learn from her. You are a small group of adults at one such gathering. The year is 1977.

Coral Conant Gilles, Storytelling Naturalist, accidentally became a storyteller while teaching environmental education in the Pacific Northwest in 2008. She now lives on land known to most as Madison, WI, but known to the Ho-Chunk people, from whom it was taken, as Teejop. In 2014, Coral founded her own business. She uses storytelling and hands-on nature activities to inspire curiosity, empathy, and connection with ourselves, each other, and the natural world. Coral believes these are at the heart of healing within, in relationships, in our communities, and in the greater global community of human and non-human beings. Her work allows her to bring both subtlety and power to that which must be explored.

Coral has a B.S. in Biology, Psychology, and Environmental Studies. She continues to deepen into herself through studies in social justice, Indigenous knowledge, foraging, social-emotional development, deep nature connection, culture, equity, and story.


Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this {article, book, exhibition, film, program, database, report, Web resource}, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or Humanities North Dakota.

However, in an increasingly polarized world, we at Humanities North Dakota believe that being open-minded is necessary to thinking critically and rationally.

Therefore, our programs and classes reflect our own open-mindedness in the inquiry, seeking, and acquiring of scholars to speak at our events and teach classes for our Public University.

To that end, we encourage our participants to join us in stepping outside our comfort zones and considering other perspectives and ideas by being open-minded while attending HND events featuring scholars who hold a variety of opinions, some being opposite of our own held beliefs.

Humanities North Dakota classes and events are funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities

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