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Stories of the Great Migration

Summer Seminars and Institutes for School Teachers

Postmark Deadline: March 1, 2012

“Stories of the Great Migration” is a two-week school teacher institute for thirty participants on the history, literature, music, and art of the Great Migration. From the 1890s through the 1930s, nearly two million African Americans left the South for Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, and other northern cities. The institute uses the literature, music, art, and oral history of this movement to help school teachers understand the impact it had on American history and culture. The institute, which has its genesis in a successful 2010 Picturing America teachers’ conference, first provides participants with an overview of post-Civil War southern history and the development of Jim Crow segregation before turning to an examination of the factors that encouraged large-scale migration and the literary and artistic responses to that migration. Readings include selections from Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, as well as works by W.E.B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Leon Litwack, Jessica Harris, Zora Neale Hurston, Travis Dempsey, Arna Bontemps, and Sterling Brown.  Participants also study jazz and blues songs, prepare scenes from August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, examine works from painter Jacob Lawrence’s Great Migration series, and receive training in oral history methods before conducting their own oral history interviews in the South Carolina community of Cheraw. The project director, Valinda Littlefield, is a scholar of African-American history. Institute faculty include several scholars from the University of South Carolina: Patricia Sullivan (history), Minuette Floyd (art education), Larry Watson (history), Bobby Donaldson (history), Marvin McAllister (English), and Folashade Alao (American studies).  Participants also work with Isabel Wilkerson, a journalist whose collection of oral histories related to the Great migration is included among the readings; Suzanne Wright from the Phillips Collection; Gerald Early, a leading scholar of jazz and American music at Washington University; and Jessica Harris, a scholar of American culinary history at Queens College, CUNY.

Dates: July 16--27 (2 weeks)
Grantee Institutions: University of South Carolina
Location: Columbia, SC

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.