Transformative texts—whether ancient or modern—are texts that have transformed the world and continue to have the power to transform individual lives under the mentorship of faculty.
Institutions participating in Cornerstone: Learning for Living must use transformative texts in the course designated as the gateway to their program to help create a common intellectual experience for incoming students. If they wish, campuses may also choose to use transformative texts in other grant-supported parts of their curricula (e.g., general education courses that form a “core text pathway” through general education).
We place a strong emphasis on “primary works” of literature and philosophy (e.g., novels, essays, poems, and speeches) from a variety of traditions. Such works are expected to make up the majority of texts. They should span a range of time periods that help students see how texts are in conversation with one another, help them answer a big question from multiple perspectives, and enable them to trace the treatment of a human problem (e.g. freedom and slavery, individualism and responsibility, law and morality) over time. Images, films or music may be included on a limited basis.
We are highly skeptical that “secondary texts” should play much if any role on the syllabus for the designated gateway course for programs participating in Cornerstone: Learning for Living. Scholarly commentary on primary works, usually in the form of journal articles, seems to us more appropriate for graduate students or perhaps upper-division coursework for majors—but not for general education courses in the humanities aimed at first-year students. We are also less interested in seeing works of social science, journalism, and the like on the syllabi, even if they are popular—though there can sometimes be a place for them if the reading list is rich in primary sources from different time periods.
The readings on syllabi for sections of the gateway course (or courses) should be drawn from a common and representative list of primary texts developed collaboratively by the faculty teaching in the program supported under Cornerstone: Learning for Living. It can be a challenge for faculty to agree on what counts as “major” and “primary”—but grantees report that the deliberative process itself is well worthwhile. Faculty can always go beyond the common list by assigning additional or secondary works in their sections. For example, Purdue has a common list of primary texts of over 200 works, but faculty teaching in its Transformative Texts sequence are expected to assign only 50 percent of the readings from this common text. As long as the common list of primary texts is robust and there is a clear policy on how it will be used to inform syllabi, there is plenty of latitude for faculty to incorporate other readings of their own choice, and to experiment with more recent works, including film or art works.
A list of texts, even if it is provisional in nature, must be included in concept papers and proposals for planning and implementation grants. A major purpose of a planning grant awarded under Cornerstone: Learning for Living is to provide time and space for faculty to arrive at criteria for inclusion on a consensus list of transformative texts; a policy for how texts from the consensus list will be used across sections of the gateway course (ranging from a set number or percentage of readings to a standardized reading list across all sections); and an initial living list—as the list will need to be continually renewed—of works that they are interested in teaching and that they feel prepared to make accessible and engaging for their students.
Faculty instructors can model “engaged amateurism”: while they may not be an expert on Homer, for example, they are experts in showing students how to approach a seemingly forbidding text and extracting insights from it. A transformative texts class seminar is designed to enable students to share their own ideas in conversation with peers in and out of the classroom, to strengthen skills in listening and critical thinking that they will continue to use in subsequent coursework and in the world of work, and perhaps most importantly of all, to demonstrate that their institution takes them seriously as scholars and has high aspirations for them, regardless of their prior academic preparation.
Institutions may consider whether their existing course sequences or programs that emphasize transformative texts could be scaled to serve a larger proportion of the undergraduate student body and whether there are opportunities to create more coherent pathways and/or certificate programs. How the program model will adapt depends on the curricular structures and culture at your institution.
Our hope is that a Cornerstone program incentivizes students to take humanities courses anchored in transformative texts, even if they enter college with general education credits from dual enrollment or other programs.
For the Cornerstone: Learning for Living program, we are open to considering programs that involve a general education course with a foreign language component if the course fits into the call of the RFP and is set up to reach a significant share of the incoming undergraduates.
Courses in the social sciences can have a role in the Cornerstone program model if they fit the RFP’s call (e.g., for the pathways component of the RFP).
The intent behind the expectation that tenure-track faculty lead Cornerstone grants is to ensure that there is faculty buy-in for curricular change and that such changes can be institutionalized as they are carried out by committed faculty. Given that Teagle-NEH initiative welcomes the participation of a diverse array of institutions—community colleges, liberal arts college, regional comprehensive institutions, and research universities—the grant program is open to institutions that do not offer traditional tenure, with the understanding that revised curricula can still be sustained by faculty on renewable multi-year contracts.
While Teagle typically does not award multiple active grants to a single institution because we wish to distribute the Foundation’s resources as widely as possible, current Teagle grantees may apply for the Cornerstone grant program cosponsored with NEH.
NEH will consider requests from institutions participating in the Cornerstone initiative as long as they are for different programs/purposes currently supported by NEH grants; in other words, no overlapping costs for programs are permitted, but applications for distinct activities or different phases of the same project are allowable. Additionally, individual fellowships funded under Cornerstone cannot be awarded to those who already are receiving fellowship support from NEH.
At the concept paper stage, there is no need to submit a budget. We just need to know the type of award (planning or implementation) you have in mind. If you wish, you may indicate the award size you have in mind (planning grants are capped at $25k over 6-12 months) and a sentence or two on how you expect to apply grant funds.
Program officers typically ask all prospective grantees to revise proposals—planning as well as implementation—until the core ideas and components are as clear as possible and strongly aligned with the call of the RFP, the work plan is clearly delineated (who the key faculty and administrators are, what they are responsible for carrying out, when and how the core activities will happen), and all questions and concerns are addressed in the document, with an eye toward ensuring proposals are viewed favorably by multiple audiences.
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