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Cullman Center Institute for Teachers Past Programs

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The Cullman Center Institute for Teachers offers two distinct programs for professional development that give teachers an opportunity to enrich their understanding of history and literature and to learn about doing research in one of the world's great libraries. The Institute is located in The New York Public Library's landmark building on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. Listed below are some of our past seminars.

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Larry Rohter

A Primer on Brazil: Global Giant with Larry Rohter

Monday, February 1, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
When the 2016 Summer Olympics were awarded to Rio de Janeiro late in 2009, Brazil was enjoying a decade-long economic boom and the country seemed poised for a leap to global power status. But when the games open next August 6, the mood in Rio is sure to be a sour one. Since the end of 2014, Brazil has been mired in the worst corruption scandal in its history, with its political institutions and leaders discredited, and the economy has shifted into reverse and is actually shrinking. What went wrong? And what makes this tropical giant tick? Even with all its problems, Brazil boasts the Read More ›
Nick Wilding

A History of Forgery with Nick Wilding

Monday, February 1, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
We are accustomed to reading about art forgeries, counterfeit antiquities, pirated pharmaceuticals, even fake racing bikes. Until recently most people assumed that it was not possible to forge rare books, and that any such attempts would be easily detected. Using the New York Public Library’s unrivaled collection of forgeries and facsimiles, we will investigate the surprisingly long and complicated history of techniques and technologies deployed in forging printed books. Along the way, we will consider what forgeries have to tell us about the times in which they occurred, and will conduct a Read More ›
Shamus Khan

Gatsby’s Inglorious World of Inequality with Shamus Khan

Monday, February 1, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
Relevant for history as well as English teachers, this seminar will focus on the social world portrayed in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald set his novel at a time of staggering new wealth, staunchly-held prejudices, deep underlying inequalities, and a heady sense of promise. Will the bubble of the 1920s collapse? Will anything ultimately change?Read More ›
Yasmine El Rashidi

The Literature of Fact: A Non-Fiction Writing Workshop with Yasmine El Rashidi

Monday, February 1, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
The best literary journalism combines rigorous reporting, fluid writing, and a strong concept. In this workshop we will examine the key building blocks of long-form journalism, with a focus on the particular skills required when writing about events as they are happening (e.g., Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the Arab Spring). Participants will be given short writing exercises during the day.Read More ›
Stacy Schiff

The Salem Witch Trials: Making Documents Talk with Stacy Schiff

Monday, February 1, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
In 1692 the Massachusetts Bay Colony executed 14 women, five men, and two dogs for witchcraft. The trial records have disappeared, as have many contemporaneous accounts of that year. We are left with about 950 legal documents, mostly records of preliminary hearings, depositions, complaints, and arrest warrants. These ‘reports’ are highly unreliable. Adolescent and pre-adolescent girls leveled the Salem accusations, and what they said has been conveyed to us by men. In the hearing room, reporters recorded answers but not always the questions that elicited them, and summarized testimony Read More ›
Laura Shapiro

The View from the Kitchen with Laura Shapiro

Monday, February 1, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
The View from the Kitchen with Laura Shapiro This seminar will focus on three culinary icons who span the 20th century: Betty Crocker, Julia Child, and Alice Waters. Their influence can be seen in every corner of America's relationship with food, yet each worked very differently to reach her audience. Betty Crocker, invented by the advertising industry, communicated through the imagination. Julia Child, a powerfully charismatic teacher, communicated through television. And Alice Waters, whom most Americans wouldn't recognize on the street despite her famous name, has communicated through Read More ›
Vivek Narayanan

Poetry as Translation: A Creative Writing Workshop with Vivek Narayanan

Monday, February 1, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
This workshop will use “translation” as inspiration for writing our own poems. We’ll think about the space between languages and consider the translated poem not as an “exact copy” of the original, but as a refraction, a riff. We’ll examine fascinating and exciting experiments with poetry and translation, reading poems by Jack Spicer, Alice Oswald, Latasha Nevada Diggs, Christian Hawkey and others. Participants will be given the opportunity to experiment by writing multilingual texts, working with languages they don’t necessarily know. Knowledge of other languages is not Read More ›
Alejandro Zambra

Stories from Poems: A Creative Writing Workshop with Alejandro Zambra

Monday, February 1, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
What separates fiction and poetry? Might a poem contain a short story? One answer to these questions is surely “I don’t know,” but discussing them will lead to a fruitful discussion about creative writing. We will start by exploring poems by Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound, Nicanor Parra, and others. Each participant will draft in class a short story based on one of those poems. When the group discusses these drafts, we will ask whether anything has been lost in translation.Read More ›
Carlos Dada

Writing about Victims: A Journalism Workshop with Carlos Dada

Monday, July 27, 2015, 9 a.m.
Reporting on victims is a fraught and troubling process. To what extent does “serving the public interest” justify examining people’s pain and writing about their lives? How does the journalist come to terms with work that, at every step in the process, may have consequences for the subject -- and for the journalist? And what about the perpetrators of abuse and atrocities? Do they deserve the microphone the journalist offers them? We will examine these delicate issues through articles, books, and documentaries about victims in different parts of the world, including El Salvador, Rwanda, Read More ›
Peter Holquist

Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Its Historical Context with Peter Holquist

Monday, July 20, 2015, 9 a.m.
War and Peace is widely considered one of the greatest achievements in world literature, although Tolstoy himself insisted it was not a novel. Part family romance, part historical epic, part polemic on the nature of history, its sprawling narrative takes place during the events of the French Revolutions and the Napoleonic Wars (1789-1815.) This seminar will consider the book’s historical context as well as its literary qualities. How does the novel help us to understand this momentous era? How does history help us to understand this great novel? Participants will be asked to read and make Read More ›
Ayana Mathis

Deconstructing Voice: A Creative Writing Workshop with Ayana Mathis

Monday, July 13, 2015, 9 a.m.
New writers are urged (relentlessly) to "find their voices"-- a frustrating bit of advice if ever there was one. Voice is among the most elusive of terms. What is it, exactly? Of what does it consist? How does one go about developing it? Certainly voice includes style, but that is so unique and organic to each writer that it only further confuses the issue. In this workshop we will dismantle voice into practical elements: narration (point of view), character development, dialogue, and finally, the sentence. To aid in this dismantling, we will examine writing by Julio Cortázar, Edward P. Read More ›

Finding a Voice: A Creative Writing Workshop with Jordi Puntí

Tuesday, April 28, 2015, 9 a.m.
The German comedian Karl Valentin famously remarked, “Everything has already been said, but not yet by everyone.” New writers too often imitate or over-reach, as they search for a balance between tradition and a way of writing that is fresh and personal. Finding a “voice,” a distinctive means of expression, is a major achievement, but with each new project, the search begins again. In this workshop, we will consider “voice” in a number of writers – George Saunders, Junot Diaz, Alice Munro, Alberto Bolaño – and explore techniques to help participants find their own.Read More ›

Time Travel: Writing Memory and the Past with Ayana Mathis

Friday, April 24, 2015, 9 a.m.
Backstory has become a dirty word in fiction workshops. At best it's something to be gotten out of the way quickly; at worst it's considered a serious drag on the prose. But this workshop explores backstory as a rich and essential tool. We will examine short fiction by Mavis Gallant, James Salter, and others to see how these writers successfully use memory and the past. Participants will be given brief writing exercises.Read More ›

Gang Warfare in Central America with Carlos Dada

Friday, April 10, 2015, 9 a.m.
El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in the world. This seminar will explore connections among the following events: El Salvador’s civil war between 1980 and 1992; the wartime exodus of families to California; young boys joining gangs in Los Angeles; U.S. deportation of gang members back to El Salvador; the beginning of violent gang warfare in El Salvador. The seminar will examine photographs, videos, and reportage to explore the causes of this violence and its tragic consequences, particularly for children who fled their native countries last summer seeking haven in the Read More ›

King Lear: Catastrophe as a Metaphor with Gerard Passannante

Monday, April 6, 2015, 9 a.m.
In the opening scene of King Lear, Lear asks his youngest daughter what she would add to her sisters’ professions of love for him. Cordelia responds, “Nothing.” What follows from this seemingly innocent statement is a shocking display of cruelty. Lear’s “dragon,” as he calls it, is unleashed, and Cordelia is banished. Why was Lear so upset? William Hazlitt compared Lear’s state of mind to a “solid promontory pushed from its basis by the force of an earthquake.” This seminar considers the role of natural catastrophe in framing questions about human agency and knowledge. We Read More ›

Using Art to Study History: Medieval Europe with Sara Lipton

Friday, March 27, 2015, 9 a.m.
History is typically studied through texts, yet for much of human history the majority of people could not read or write. Recognizing this effective illiteracy, and spurred by the “image explosion” brought on by technological change in the 20th-21st centuries, historians have begun to turn to visual images and material objects to learn about the past. In this seminar we will explore one of the most image-oriented of all historical periods – medieval Europe – through the lens of its artworks. We’ll look at a range of medieval images and objects, and will discuss how to extract Read More ›

Drop Dead: The Fiscal Crisis of 1975 and the Transformation of New York City with Kim Phillips-Fein

Friday, March 13, 2015, 9 a.m.
In 1975, the largest city in the United States nearly declared bankruptcy. The financial collapse of New York—the home of Wall Street—raised large political questions. Could its economic problems be fixed? Were its generous public services possible in a recession? Was its postwar liberalism tenable? The fiscal crisis led to budget cuts that affected most of the city’s public institutions and set off a wave of protests. Although protesters sometimes successfully shaped how the cuts happened, they couldn’t resist larger changes as the city became increasingly oriented toward private Read More ›

A New Perspective on the Declaration of Independence with Steven Pincus

Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 9 a.m.
Why was it that the outbreak of the American Revolution and the creation of British India were simultaneous events involving many of the same people? What happens if we think about American independence not as the pivotal moment in American history but as part of a global imperial struggle involving not just the British Empire but the Spanish and French Empires as well? This seminar considers the Declaration of Independence and other key historical documents from this imperial perspective. Read More ›

Two Ways of Looking at Elizabeth Bishop with Megan Marshall and Kenneth Gross

Thursday, February 26, 2015, 9 a.m.
Elizabeth Bishop was a great poet of memory. She mined her childhood experience in prose, wrote poems from a child’s perspective, and, in retrospective narrative verse, established herself as the Wordsworth of her age. In this seminar, the biographer Megan Marshall and the literary critic Kenneth Gross will combine biographical explication and close reading of texts to explore Bishop’s youth—a period of radical dislocation and loss as well as of self-discovery—and the ways in which Bishop transformed her life into poetry. Read More ›

The First Person: A Creative Writing Workshop with Justin Torres

Friday, February 20, 2015, 9 a.m.
In this workshop, we will examine voice and structure in first-person narratives by Donald Barthelme, Stuart Dybek, Carolyn Ferrell, Janet Frame, Amy Hempel, and Grace Paley. We will consider the difference between the often nostalgic and sometimes unreliable “I” voice that narrates events, and the active, embodied “I” who is a character in the story itself. We'll also see how associative thinking and structural fragmentation affect our understanding of voice and character. Participants will then attempt to write their own nostalgic, fragmented, wild first person narratives.Read More ›

Made in America: Viewing our Built Environments as Primary Documents with Elizabeth Blackmar

Monday, July 28, 2014, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
The homes and buildings in which we live and work, the parks and places in which we shop and play, and all the roads and byways in between, tell the story of our past. In this seminar we will treat America’s built environments as primary documents that reveal our social history from the 19th century to the present. Among the questions to be considered: How did the 19th century factory influence the design of contemporary kitchens? What does Central Park tell us about America’s evolving notion of “play?” How is the A train connected to segregation? We will read essays by the great Read More ›

Making the Supernatural Real: A Creative Writing Workshop in Fiction with Téa Obreht

Monday, July 21, 2014, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
In this workshop, we will examine some basic techniques of storytelling. Using a wide range of texts, from folktales to Flannery O’Connor, Poe to Kelly Link, Gabriel García Márquez to Karen Russell, we will explore how the bizarre, the mythical, and the supernatural work in a fictional narrative. Daily writing exercises will help each participant compose a short piece of fiction, which will be discussed at the end of the week in a marathon workshop.Read More ›

Slow Looking: A Nonfiction Writing Workshop with Graciela Mochkofsky

Monday, July 14, 2014, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
In this workshop, participants will exercise their observational skills in order to write descriptive nonfiction. To sharpen our senses, we will study examples of great descriptive writing from authors such as Ryszard Kapuściński, John McPhee, Janet Malcolm, Emmanuel Carrère, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Joseph Mitchell, Gitta Sereny, and Elif Batuman. Participants will go out into New York to do their own observing and recording, and then write descriptions of increasing complexity, starting with a single object, moving on to a person, a situation, and finally a scene with multiple Read More ›

Inventing Your Voice: A Creative Writing Workshop

Monday, July 29, 2013, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

THIS IS A WEEK-LONG SEMINAR (JULY 29 - AUGUST 2)

JOHN WRAY, Instructor

'Finding your voice' is one of the most daunting challenges confronting any aspiring writer, largely because 'voice' is not so much found as invented. A distinctive, articulate, seductive voice is essential to fiction and non-fiction alike, but each novel or short story or essay has a specific voice—or group of voices—that suit and serve it best. Over the course of our week, we'll dip into the works of some of the great virtuosi of voice, such as Virginia Read More ›

Political Cinema and the “Other”

Monday, July 22, 2013, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

THIS IS A WEEK-LONG SEMINAR (MONDAY JULY 22 - FRIDAY JULY 26)

SHIMON DOTAN, Instructor

Representations of the “other” are central to identity. In times of political conflict, our constructs of the “other” become rallying cries. This seminar is designed for teachers interested in contemporary politics, history, filmmaking, and film criticism. We will ask: How do filmmakers fight against or reinforce prevailing representations of an enemy? We will also investigate how the “other” is Read More ›
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