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Forever Wild: The Adirondacks in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for School Teachers

Postmark Deadline: March 4, 2013

Two one-week workshops for eighty school teachers using the Adirondacks to understand the interconnections of urban and wilderness environments in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America.

Directed by historians Kevin Sheets and Randi Storch (State University of New York College of Cortland [SUNY Cortland]), this workshop explores "the social, cultural, political, and economic relevance of the Adirondack wilderness" to the history of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, which has often been taught with an urban focus. Participants learn on-site at three Adirondack Great Camps (Camp Huntington, which now belongs to SUNY Cortland, and those of the Vanderbilts and J.P. Morgan) and two museums (Adirondack Museum, 1890 House Museum), as well as on contrasting walking tours in urban Cortland and on Adirondack camp trails. Monday's focus on "Innovation, Industrialization and Domestic Life of the Gilded Age" takes Cortland as a case study for understanding life in a nineteenth-century manufacturing town. Participants work with collections at the 1890s House Museum, modeling historians' process of inquiry and interpretation. Discussing Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, which fictionalizes the 1906 murder of Cortland factory worker Grace Brown, they explore the interpretation of historical events through literature. The focus on Tuesday is the cultural and aesthetic ideal of the wilderness, and how Americans of the era defined "wilderness" and "nature" in contrast with the urban experience. Primary source texts and period photographs in the archive and library at Camp Huntington help illuminate the role of "wilderness" in Gilded Age ideas of masculinity, class, and nation building. Wednesday's theme, "From Enchanted Forest to Lumber Mill," focuses on the economic interdependence of city and wilderness. Adirondack Museum curators guide participants through exhibits on the region's industries and help them engage with the museum's collections and historic structures, ranging from a nineteenth-century one-room log cabin hotel to a luxurious early-twentieth-century Pullman railcar. Thursday's topic turns to "Domesticating the Wild," with study of the Great Camps that industrialists built as "civilized" retreats in the wilderness for their lesiure pursuits. On Friday, "wilderness" is considered as a focus of political conflict, most notably in the 1894 debate over protecting the Adirondack forest preserve as "forever wild" in the revised state constitution. Historian Rebecca Edwards (Vassar College) situates these contentions among industrialists, reformers, and naturalists in their progressive-era political context. Workshop readings include writings by Theodore Roosevelt on "the strenuous life" and selections from Philip Terrie's Forever Wild: A Cultural History of Wilderness in the Adirondacks, William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis, Edwards's New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, Robert Cherny's American Politics in the Gilded Age, and Philip DeLoria's Playing Indian.

Dates: July 7–13 or July 14–20
Director(s): Kevin Sheets and Randi Storch
Grantee Institutions: SUNY Cortland
Location: Camp Huntington, Raquette Lake, NY

About NEH Landmarks of American History: Workshops for School Teachers

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent grant-making agency of the federal government. As part of the NEH’s We the People program, we offer the following Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for School Teachers. NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops provide the opportunity for K-12 educators to engage in intensive study and discussion of important topics in American history and culture. These one-week programs will give participants direct experiences in the interpretation of significant historical and cultural sites and the use of archival and other primary evidence. Landmarks Workshops present the best scholarship on a specific landmark or related cluster of landmarks, enabling participants to gain a sense of the importance of historical places, to make connections between what they learn in the Workshop and what they teach, and to develop enhanced teaching or research materials.

Amount of Award

Teachers selected to participate will receive a stipend of $1,200 at the end of the residential Workshop session. Stipends are intended to help cover living expenses, books, and travel expenses to and from the Workshop location.


These projects are designed principally for classroom teachers and librarians in public, charter, independent, and religiously-affiliated schools, as well as home schooling parents. Other K-12 school personnel, including administrators, substitute teachers, and classroom professionals, are eligible to participate, subject to available space.

Teachers at schools in the United States or its territorial possessions or Americans teaching in foreign schools where at least 50 percent of the students are American nationals are eligible for this program. Applicants must be United States citizens, residents of U.S. jurisdictions, or foreign nationals who have been residing in the United States or its territories for at least the three years immediately preceding the application deadline. Foreign nationals teaching abroad at non-U.S. chartered institutions are not eligible to apply.

Applicants must complete the NEH application and provide all of the information requested to be considered eligible.

New this year: An individual may apply to up to two NEH Summer Programs in any one year (Landmarks Workshops, Summer Seminars, or Summer Institutes), but may participate in only one. Please note that eligibility criteria differ significantly between the Landmarks Workshops and the Seminars and Institutes Programs.

How to Apply

Please e-mail, telephone or send by U.S. Post a request for application information and expanded Workshop descriptions to the Landmarks directors listed here; in many cases, these materials will also be available on project Web sites. You may request information about as many Workshops as you like, and, as noted above, you may apply to up to two programs but participate in only one.