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Sailing to Freedom: New Bedford and the Underground Railroad

Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for School Teachers

Postmark Deadline: March 4, 2013

Two one-week workshops for eighty school teachers on abolitionism in its maritime context in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

The program examines New Bedford as a locus for abolitionism and the Underground Railroad, treating the city as a lens through which to view great challenges facing nineteenth-century America. During this period, New Bedford became one of America's most cosmopolitan cities, as well as a preeminent whaling port. While its maritime trade drew diverse populations of immigrants, it also transported to freedom fugitive African Americans in ship cargo holds. With its significant Quaker population, New Bedford emerged as a hub of both reform society and abolitionist activity. As Kathryn Grover captures in her book, The Fugitive's Gibraltar: Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts, New Bedford was "not so much a stop along the Underground Railroad, but rather a terminus--a community where ex-slaves knew they could settle and prosper." Project director Timothy Walker (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth), a maritime and slave trade historian, has assembled a diverse faculty, including historians Grover, John Stauffer (Harvard University), and Jeffrey Bolster (University of New Hampshire), and local poet laureate Everett Hoagland. Each day, experts connect lectures and discussions with close studies of original documents, objects, and architecture. For example, after lectures on New Bedford's early history and the maritime trade, teachers examine rare maritime guides, captains' logs, and mariners' scrimshaw sculpture. On another day, Len Travers (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth) trains participants to work with primary documents and material objects as historical evidence. Primary readings include census data, fugitive slave narratives, and the speeches and letters of Frederick Douglass; secondary readings include works by several of the visiting scholars, such as Jeffrey Bolster's Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail.

Dates: July 14–19 or July 21–26
Director(s): Timothy Walker
Grantee Institutions: University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Location: New Bedford, MA

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.