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Golden Compasses as Moral Compasses: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Fairy Tales and Fantasy

Summer Seminars and Institutes for School Teachers

Postmark Deadline: March 1, 2012

“Golden Compasses as Moral Compasses: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Fairy Tales and Fantasy” is a four-week school teacher seminar for sixteen participants on fantasy and fairy tales and their impact on the development of imagination and moral sense in children. The project director observes that, since John Newbery established the first press for children’s books in the eighteenth century, print culture for children has flourished.  The seminar engages teachers in the analysis of imaginative literature for children alongside secondary sources by “historians, psychologists, and literary critics on the genesis, dissemination, and meaning” of works including Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, classic fairy tales, A Thousand and One Nights, and recent works by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass) and J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). The sequencing of texts is chronological and also ranges purposefully through elements such as genre and gender (week one focusing on fairy tales with girls as protagonists, followed by boys in week two).  At Harvard’s Houghton Library teachers examine illustrated fairy tale anthologies from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Teachers participate in seminar discussions and small group work; movies related to the readings (Finding Neverland, for example) are also shown. Director Maria Tatar (Germanic Languages and Literature, Harvard University) is joined by visiting scholars Jerry Griswold (San Diego State University) and Donald Haase (Wayne State University).   Participation by teachers in grades K-8 and graduate students focusing on early education is particularly encouraged.  

Dates: June 25--July 20 (4 weeks)
Grantee Institutions: Harvard University
Location: Cambridge, MA

About NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes for School Teachers

Each year the NEH’s Division of Education Programs offers teachers opportunities to study a variety of humanities topics in NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes. An NEH Summer Seminar for school teachers enables sixteen participants to explore a topic or set of readings with an expert scholar. The core material of the seminar need not relate directly to the school curriculum; the principal goal of the seminar is to engage teachers in the scholarly enterprise and to expand and deepen their understanding of the humanities through reading, discussion, writing, and reflection.

Amount of Award

NEH Summer Scholars are awarded fixed stipends to help cover travel costs, books and other research expenses, and living expenses. Stipend amounts are based on the length of the NEH Summer Seminar or Institute: $2,100 (2 weeks), $2,700 (3 weeks), $3,300 (4 weeks), $3,900 (5 weeks), or $4,500 (6 weeks).


Full-time teachers in American K-12 schools, whether public, charter, independent, or religiously affiliated, as well as home-schooling parents, are eligible to apply to NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes. Americans teaching abroad are also eligible if a majority of the students they teach are American citizens. Librarians and school administrators may also be eligible.

You may request information about as many projects as you like, but you may apply to no more than two NEH Summer Programs (seminars, institutes, or Landmarks workshops) and you may attend only one. Eligibility criteria differ significantly between NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes and NEH Landmarks Workshops.

Please note: Up to two seminar spaces and three institute spaces are available for current graduate students, who intend to pursue careers in K-12 teaching.

How to Apply

For more information and application instructions, please visit the program website listed above.