Teaching National Endowment for the Humanities Enduring Questions Course Grants: Advice, Experience, Evaluation

AHA Session 64
Friday, January 3, 2014: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Diplomat Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
Julia Huston Nguyen, National Endowment for the Humanities
What is Equality? Taking the Long View
Lahra Smith, Georgetown University
What is a Neighbor? Looking beyond the Campus
Richard Andrew Cahill, Berea College

Session Abstract

Since 2009, the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded about 100 Enduring Questions Course Grants. The NEH Enduring Questions grant program supports faculty members in the teaching and development of a new course that will foster intellectual community through the study of an enduring question. This panel will draw on the expertise of NEH program officers and three presenters, who will chronicle their experience in applying for and implementing the grant, with an emphasis on retrospective, practical advice for prospective applicants, and the manner in which the grant influenced campus conversations beyond History departments.

            AHA’s 2014 theme of “Disagreement, Debate, Discussion” coheres nicely with the major element of the grant project: a key question. Indeed, the question-driven course encourages undergraduates and teachers to grapple with a fundamental concern of human life addressed by the humanities, and to join together in a deep and sustained program of primary-source texts in context in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day. Projects have centered around many questions, such as: What is good government? Is there such a thing as a just war? What is friendship? What is evil? Are there universals in human nature? What are the origins of the universe?

            Enduring questions are questions to which no discipline, field, or profession can lay an exclusive claim. In many cases they predate the formation of the academic disciplines themselves. Enduring questions can be tackled by reflective individuals regardless of their chosen vocations, areas of expertise, or personal backgrounds. They are questions that have more than one plausible or compelling answer. They have long held interest for young people, and they allow for a special, intense dialogue across generations. Therefore, Enduring Questions grant projects have helped promote such dialogue in today’s undergraduate environment.

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