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Gullah Voices: Traditions and Transformations

Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for School Teachers

Postmark Deadline: March 4, 2013

Two one-week workshops for eighty schoolteachers to explore the history and cultural memory of the Gullah people through the arts.

In collaboration with The Penn Center in St. Helena, South Carolina, two music department faculty from the University of Connecticut, Robert Stephens and Mary Ellen Junda, engage teachers in a study of the history and rich artistic heritage of the Gullah people. They observe that the Gullah, also known as Geechee in Georgia, have shaped a distinctive culture within a history of oppression followed by isolation and more recent struggles to preserve their way of life in the face of twentieth-century development. The Gullah people, descended from rice plantation slaves, preserved many common elements of their home culture in Sierra Leone, chief among them music, dance, and oral traditions. Before coming to the workshop, teachers are asked to view the video Family Across the Sea; review materials on Yale University's Gullah website; and listen to examples of Gullah music collected in the 1930s (materials are available on the project website). They are also asked to read God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man by Cornelia Bailey and Black Culture and Black Consciousness by Lawrence Levine. Following a reception on Sunday night featuring a live performance by the Gullah Geechee Ring Shouters, the week begins with historian Cynthia Schmidt discussing West African and American Gullah connections reflected in songs and stories in common, as depicted in the documentary, The Language You Cry In. Historian Erskine Clark (Columbia Theological Seminary) expands upon these comparisons in the domain of religion and religious practices. Mid-week, co-directors Stephens and Junda discuss the historical and cultural contexts of Gullah music and explain Gullah musical styles. Wednesday afternoon at the Georgia Historical Society, teachers examine artifacts, documents, photographs, and other records with a view toward selecting a primary source to feature in the development of their group projects. In addition to the scholarly and archival experts, teachers have opportunities to work with Gullah community members: artist Leroy Campbell; Gullah historians Emory Campbell and Cornelia Bailey; and Mary Moran and her son Wilson, descendants of Amelia Dawley whose recorded song made it possible for scholars to identify precisely the Gullah's African origins. For the day trip to remote Sapelo Island, teachers are accompanied by author and community "griot" Cornelia Bailey, one of the last generation born and educated there. The tour of African-American historical sites in Savannah on Wednesday evening is led by Karen Wortham, who produced the documentary, Journey by Faith: A Story of First African Baptist Church. On the last day, teachers discuss group projects (arranged by grade levels and academic backgrounds) and explore ways to integrate the content of the Landmarks project into their teaching.

Dates: July 8–12 or July 15–19
Director(s): Robert Stephens and Mary Ellen Junda
Grantee Institutions: University of Connecticut
Location: Savannah, GA

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.