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Cullman Center Institute for Teachers Past Programs


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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Saidiya Hartman Saidiya Hartman

The Intimacies of Racial Slavery, July 31-August 4

Monday, July 31, 2017, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
This course will examine the experience of enslavement by focusing on the lives of enslaved women. The bodies of black women created the legal foundation for racial slavery in Anglo-America. The womb was the key site in the reproduction of property and the making of human commodities. Sexuality was the heart of power in the relationship of master and slave. Intimacy, sexuality and kinship were disfigured by the extreme violence and dishonor of the institution; and, at the other extreme, the Read More ›
Salvatore Scibona Salvatore Scibona

The Lives of Others: a Fiction Writing Workshop, July 17-21

Monday, July 17, 2017, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
In his novel Underworld, Don DeLillo writes of “[t]he shock of other people’s lives. The truth of another life, the blow, the impact . . . The power of an ordinary life. It is a thing you could not invent with banks of computers in a dust-free room.” This from the point of view of a fictional character he had nonetheless invented. It is a commonplace that fiction writers mostly refashion the nonfictional material of their own experience. Yet the freedom to pursue lives not our own, to invent by describing in careful language, draws us powerfully to go with the imagination where we Read More ›
Dániel Margócsy

Imagining Nature in the Age of Discoveries, July 25 - 29

Monday, July 25, 2016, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, European understanding of natural and human diversity was transformed by travelers’ encounters with new environments and cultures in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. In this seminar, we will examine printed texts, early maps, broadsheets, and paintings to consider how scholars, writers, and ordinary people reimagined their places in an expanding world. Readings will include travelers’ accounts of cannibals, poison trees, and satyrs; essays by Montaigne; excerpts from Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica; and secondary literature in the histories Read More ›
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

The Reporter and the Story: A Workshop in Journalism, July 18 - 22

Monday, July 18, 2016, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
“Reporting” primarily connotes information-gathering – the seeking out of knowledge from sources in the outside world. Yet reporting also involves emotional and sensory apprehensions, including the writer’s relationship to what is unknown when the reporting begins. This workshop will explore ways writers might use these less-understood tools. How could confusion, for example, aid reporting? How does it shape one’s voice in the narrative? Change the story? Participants will consider these questions as well as conventional fact-finding methods as they write their own short nonfiction Read More ›
Alejandro Zambra

How to Forget How to Write Fiction: A Creative Writing Workshop, July 11 - 15

Monday, July 11, 2016, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Creative writing classes and writing manuals are full of so many do’s and don’ts that we tend to forget that the essence of literature is hard to define. Rather than offer writing advice or guidelines, this workshop will explore fiction’s uncertain and volatile boundaries through a series of not-totally-weird writing exercises as well as discussions of texts by writers such as Elias Canetti, J. M. Coetzee, Natalia Ginzburg, Nicanor Parra, and Georges Perec. Throughout the week, each participant will work on a short piece that will be discussed by the group at the end of the workshop.Read More ›
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 ›
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