Archived content. The NEH Summer Seminar “Why Literature Matters”
occurred from June 24-July 21, 2018.


A Summer Institute for School Teachers
Supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities

Seminar Director: Professor Janice Carlisle  |  Seminar Dates: June 24-July 21, 2018

The words of . . . true poems give you more than poems,
They give you to form for yourself poems, religions, politics, war,
peace, behavior, histories, essays, daily life, and every thing else . . . .
– Walt Whitman, “The Answerer,” Leaves of Grass, 1891-92

Walt Whitman’s grand ambitions for “true poems” remind us how much power literature was granted in the nineteenth century and, by contrast, how little power it is often deemed to have now. Why Literature Matters similarly links past and present by asking a simple question: How do canonical nineteenth-century British and American writers help us respond to twenty-first-century doubts about the value of literary study?

This four-week seminar invites school teachers from grades four through twelve to explore a range of answers to this question by reading and discussing during its first three weeks works by the following authors: Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Brontë, Frederick Douglass, John Stuart Mill, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In its final week, members of the seminar will attend the Dickens Universe, the yearly week-long conference hosted in Santa Cruz by the Dickens Project, which will focus in 2018 on Dickens’s Little Dorrit. Participating in the various activities of the Universe, as well as continuing to meet as a distinct group, the NEH Summer Scholars will see for themselves how much literature matters to a large, diverse group of people – or, as Whitman would have put the point, how literature can “give you,” not only poems, but also “more than poems.”

Applications are invited from teachers of English or language arts. Also particularly welcome, because their presence will diversify the disciplinary range of the group’s discussions, are the teachers of such subjects as history or art or social studies who would like to explore how asking their students to read literature might enrich their teaching.


Skip to toolbar