Closer Readings Commentary

NEH Summer Programs: A Topic for Every Teacher

Victoria Sams is a senior program officer in the Division of Education Programs at NEH.

Are you interested in learning more about the Underground Railroad, Native American cultures, or the history of the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918? Enthused about discovering new information about American history through its music or its crafts to share with your students and colleagues? What about entering Dante’s world through a close study of his works and their influence?

Then the 2015 National Endowment for the Humanities summer programs for school teachers may be for you. These topics and many others will be the subjects for discussion all across the United States as well as abroad in forty-five unique NEH projects for you and your colleagues.

In this post, we’ll look at what NEH’s projects taking place next summer in three programs for teachers: Landmarks of American History and Culture, Seminars, and Institutes, are all about.

How will an NEH summer program enhance my teaching?

Past participants have called these programs “transformative,” “revitalizing,” and “invaluable.” They offer the opportunity to develop and acquire new resources for teaching and to gain deep understanding of new or familiar subjects. Here are two testimonials from recent summer projects (in brackets):

Different teaching techniques were modeled by the different presenters, including storytelling, hands-on activities, and group work. This workshop was rich in primary resources and it taught me not only how to find the appropriate resources for my students, but it also gave me the confidence to use them creatively. [Richest Hills]

The seminar was much more than the class alone—it was the opportunity to engage in an intellectual community with bright and enthusiastic colleagues from all over the country. Their willingness to extend and explore the content of the seminar and shared interests (in teaching, literature, history, film, etc.) enriched the weeks of our seminar immeasurably. [Punishment, Politics, and Culture]

What kinds of preparation must I do for the program?

The preparation required for a summer program will vary, but each program website will describe the work you will be asked to do both before and during the workshop, seminar, or institute. This is an example of the “homework” required prior to starting a summer program.

How long are the NEH summer programs?

Landmarks Workshops are offered twice a summer for one week, while Seminars and Institutes range from two to five weeks. The dates for each program are set by the project director and are listed on the NEH Summer Programs website.

What is the main difference among Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop, Seminars, and Institutes?

Landmark Workshops, Seminars, and Institutes differ in their group size and duration and may vary in their emphasis on research versus teaching projects. See below.

Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops

These workshops are designed to bring a group of 36 participants together to study the significance of particular sites or objects in American history and culture.  

Each Landmark includes dedicated time for participants to translate the essence of their week-long experience for their respective classrooms by creating new curricular material and other resources. 

For example one of next summer’s Landmarks will high-tail it to California to explore the history of the Transcontinental Railroad; in another, participants will don a front row seat at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. to study the legacies of Lincoln’s assassination. Other locations on tap include armories, mills, mansions, schoolhouses, and artists’ studios! You can also learn about school desegregation and civil rights history, American industrial history, and the role of the arts in rural or urban communities. Two examples:

Participants in “The Richest Hills: Mining in the Far West, 1862–1920” will study its history and geology through guided tours of former mines and be inducted into science and industry. They will walks mining neighborhoods and other significant sites and examine primary sources such as photographic archives tied to the regional history and culture of mining.

Participants in “The Most Southern Place on Earth: Music, History, and Culture of the Mississippi Delta” will dive into the region's music, history and culture. They will walk the Mississippi Heritage Trail with local experts and listen to the backstories within music halls and churches. Participants will also explore other historical or cultural sites to uncover the soul of the region along with its history.

For a full list, visit Landmarks.

NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes

Seminars are composed of 16 summer scholars who pursue in-depth research on a humanities topic both individually and with fellow participants, guest faculty, and the lead scholar directing the program.

The directors serve as intellectual guides and professional mentors for each participant. The seminar structure emphasizes close reading and group discussion of challenging texts, as well as the chance to pursue independent research in special collections or at archives with unique resources.

Summer seminar scholars typically produce some form of research project, individual essay, or group work. This could take the form of preparation to lead a discussion, or the keeping of a daily reading journal.

Next summer’s seminars offer a range of experiences. Participants in “Dante's Inferno: Influence, Adaptation, and Appropriation” will join scholars in a journey into Dante’s hell and Milton’s Paradise Lost, among other literary works. With art historian and museum director, Bruce Boucher, they will closely examine related artwork by Gustave Doré and August Rodin, then make an excursion to the Smithsonian Museum of African Art to see the exhibition, The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists.

Participants in historian Gerard Koot’s program, “The Dutch Republic and Britain: the Making of the Modern European Economy,” will produce an interpretative essay on a seminar-related topic that they craft, which will be published on the seminar website. See Essays from the 2013 Seminar.

Summer Institutes convene 25–30 participants to study a broad humanities topic with the aim of incorporating this learning into their teaching. NEH Institutes typically feature a wide array of guest faculty who share their expertise with the participants through mini-lectures, discussion sessions, and other activities, such as guided tours of collections or archives.

For example, next summer at Michigan State University, the “Africa in World History Institute” will engage participants in four weeks of conversation with close to 20 guest faculty who will share their expertise on the African continent, including its history (precolonial to contemporary), literature, music, media, and geography—among other subjects.

Participants to “The Religions and Arts of the Himalayan Region Institute” will absorb that culture’s religious practices and visual arts through concerts, film discussions, a cooking demonstration, and a visit to the Rubin Museum for Tibetan Art and Karmapa Monastery that will complement the wide variety of close readings on the subject.

For a full list visit: Summer Seminars and Institutes.

How do I apply?

You must apply directly to the program that you wish to attend. Follow the “To Apply” link provided within each program’s website. You are allowed to apply to a maximum of two programs, but may only attend one.

When is the deadline?

All summer programs have the same application deadline: March 2, 2015.

What will it cost me to participate?

All of these programs are tuition free. If you are selected as a participant, you will receive a stipend of $1,200–$3,900 (based upon the length of the program), which will help cover expenses for the programs.

To find out full details about any program and answer questions you may have by following the link to the NEH website page Divisions: Education 2015 Summer Programs.