NEH Landmarks Workshop for Schoolteachers 2017

Emily Dickinson:  Person, Poetry, and Place


NEH 2009 teachers with Dickinson family

photo by Steve Fratoni

Workshop Information:

NEH logo

The Workshop will be offered twice. Thirty-six NEH Summer Scholars will be selected for each week. The first week is open to a national audience who will recieve a stipend of $1200. The second week is open to a commuter audience who will recieve a $600 stipend.

Session I: Sunday, July  9 - Friday, July 14, 2017
Session II: Sunday, July 23  - Friday, July 28, 2017

PLEASE NOTE:  The workshop begins on SUNDAY EVENING and continues THROUGH LUNCH on Friday.    Participation in the entire workshop session, beginning on Sunday and continuing through lunch on Friday, is required. Summer Scholars must not arrive Monday morning or depart Friday morning.

Daily Schedule

Workshop schedules differ from Session I to Session II to accomodate commuting participants, but both sessions will experience the same daily content. Commuter workshop days begin at 8:30AM and conclude no later than 6PM.
  • Sunday:  Welcome!
  • Monday:  Introducing Emily Dickinson
  • Tuesday:  Dickinson's Material World
  • Wednesday:  Delving Deeper into Dickinson's Poetry
  • Thursday:  Dickinson's Amherst
  • Friday:  Reflections on the Poet

Each Workshop day is organized around a theme, but two daily activities provide frames for the week:

Writing into the Day.  Each day will begin a featured Dickinson poem or letter excerpt, followed by a ten-minute writing exercise related to the day’s theme.  Bruce Penniman, former site director of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, will create writing prompts and facilitate this exercise that is designed to help participants “write into the day.”  The writing prompts will also serve as models for participants to use in the classroom.  With new emphasis in curriculum reform on writing “across the curriculum,” this daily practice is intended to provide educators with ideas for doing just that, as well as thinking about themselves as writers.

Curriculum Discussion Groups.  NEH Summer Scholars will be divided in advance into groups of nine, according to grade and subject area.  Each group will be facilitated by one of four mentor teachers whose own classroom experiences most closely match that of the group members.  During curriculum group meetings spread across the week, Scholars will complete a template that outlines the design of a project they will undertake back in the classroom.  These small group meetings also allow participants to engage in lively discourse with peers that can energize and inspire good teaching.  For more about the curriculum project, click here. (Coming soon!)

Sunday:  Welcome!

Registration takes place throughout Sunday afternoon.   All Summer Scholars will gather for a welcome dinner and orientation.

Monday:  Introducing Emily Dickinson

The day will open with a talk, "Emily Dickinson: Why She Matters," by Joanne Dobson. Dr. Dobson will provide an overview of Dickinson’s life and poetry, outline issues related to Dickinson’s place in the literary canon, and consider why, more than most poets, Dickinson’s work engages the reader’s mind as well as soul. Dr. Dobson is the author of Dickinson and the Strategies of Reticence.

Summer Scholars will then visit the Emily Dickinson Museum for a ninety-minute guided tour of the Homestead and The Evergreens. The tour details Dickinson’s life and literary achievement and complements pre-workshop reading. After lunch, Scholars will meet for the first time in their curriculum discussion groups.

Monday afternoon's short lecture, “What happened to Emily Dickinson's Stuff?" by the Emily Dickinson Museum's Executive Director Jane Wald will prepare scholars for Tuesday's exploration of Dickinson material culture. The lecture precedes an evening spent exploring the modern landscape of Amherst with Mount Holyoke College professor Martha Ackmann, who illuminates the Dickinon family in their 19th century context.

Tuesday:  Dickinson’s Material World

Throughout the day, Scholars will consider how objects, manuscripts, and landscapes help to inform our understanding of history and literature. The day is devoted to three activities:

1) an object workshop at the Museum, jointly taught by Jane Wald and decorative arts specialist Nan Wolverton,  in which each Scholar will closely examine a family artifact;

2) a poetry workshop with D'Youville College professor Marta Werner, during which Scholars will examine Dickinson's use of paper ephemera for  poetic composition;

3) a tour of the Dickinson collection with Mike Kelly at the Amherst College archives, which owns half of Dickinson’s manuscripts, as well as her iconic daguerreotype and a lock of her red hair. 

After a full morning, Scholars will explore some of the nineteenth-century’s scientific developments that make an appearance in Dickinson’s poetry during a tour of the Beneski Museum of Natural History with educator Fred Venne to see its unparalleled collection of prehistoric “dinosaur” tracks—all found locally--and to consider how Dickinson’s world view was affected by discoveries made in her own back yard.

Wednesday: Delving More Deeply into Dickinson’s Poetry

Wednesday’s activities immerse Scholars more deeply in Dickinson’s poetry, both in the physical experience of Dickinson’s manuscripts and in the themes that Dickinson explores in her verse.  The day begins with a lecture by Cristanne Miller, professor of English at SUNY Buffalo. Dickinson's poetry has generated admiration and debate, almost from the moment of their initial publication in book form. Miller shows how different editions and websites of Dickinsons work provide access to various aspects of her composition, copying, and distribution practices. Included in this presentation will be a practical tour of ways to use Miller's 2016 Harvard University Press publication, Emily Dickinson's Poems: As She Preserved Them.

The group will divide for two sessions preceding and following lunch:

  • Small-group poetry discussions led by Martha Ackmann and Cristanne Miller. Participants are divided into two groups; each group will meet once on Wednesday and one on Thursday so that everyone may work with both facilitators. Ackmann's session examines Dickinsons poems about poetry, while Miller's focuses on the effects of the Civil War on U.S. poetry as a genre and on Dickinson's work.
  • Landscape tour. Participants will take the Museum's self-guided landscape audio-tour, narrated by former U.S. poet laureate Richard Wilbur. During this tour, learn more about the natural environment in which Dickinson lived and consider how recent Museum restoration projects like the Dickinson family orchard and conservatory further define the poet's home environement.

The day concludes with Martha Ackmann's lecture, in which themes of gender are examined through Mary Lyon and the significant developments in women’s education that occurred in western Massachusetts in the early nineteenth century.  Lyon was the founder of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, where Dickinson studied in 1847-1848.  Ackmann argues that Dickinson’s experience at the seminary, and her exposure to Mary Lyons’ ideals, were instrumental in shaping Dickinson’s sense of self, both as a poet and as a woman.

Thursday:  Dickinson’s Nineteenth-century World

The day brings into focus the town of Amherst, Dickinson’s lifelong residence.  Scholars will take part in a hands-on workshop at the Jones Library Special Collections Department with curator Cynthia Harbeson and with lead mentor teacher Wendy Kohler.  The Special Collections Department has an impressive Dickinson-related collection of about 7,000 items--including original manuscript poems and letters, material about the town of Amherst, family correspondence, and newspapers.  Using this collection, participants will examine material sources related to several topics already introduced during the workshop—religion, politics, education, the Civil War—that help to place the poet within the context of her Amherst community and the wider world.

Scholars will also have a second poetry discussion with either Martha Ackmann or Cristanne Miller (see Wednesday’s description).

Curriculum projects are due at day’s end.

Friday:  Reflections on the Poet

On this final day, Scholars have a chance to reflect on their week of immersion in Emily Dickinson’s life and work.  After sharing their curriculum projects with the entire curriculum group, everyone will walk together to Dickinson’s grave site in West Cemetery, just a half mile from her home.  There Scholars will share a favorite Dickinson poem at her grave before enjoying lunch together, complete with dessert of Dickinson’s gingerbread.  Lunch will offer an opportunity to talk together about the question raised early in the week by Joanne Dobson:  Why does Emily Dickinson matter?