Education Programs: Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Period of Performance

9/1/2012 - 8/31/2016

Funding Totals

$24,752.00 (approved)
$24,193.33 (awarded)

NEH Enduring Questions Course on "What Is the Role of Reading in Human Life?"

FAIN: AQ-50786-12

Shimer College (Chicago, IL 60616)
Stuart Patterson (Project Director: September 2011 to February 2017)

The development of a course that explores the question of what we should read and why.

Stuart Patterson, associate professor of liberal arts at Shimer College, develops a course that explores why and what people should read. Designed both to engage and to critique Shimer College's Great Books curriculum, the course provides a structured venue for students to consider the intellectual, personal, and ethical dimensions of reading and thus, the foundation of a liberal arts education. Divided into six thematic units, it begins with Plato's Phaedrus, where Socrates queries the relationship between reading, writing, and conversation. The next section considers debates over canonicity - what we should read and how that is determined. Students first examine Shimer's own canon by reading The Great Conversation, whose author, Robert Maynard Hutchins, laid the groundwork for the college's curriculum. This is set alongside a larger discussion in Lee Morrissey's reader, Debating the Canon. Students then compare the four New Testament gospels to apocryphal texts, the latter supported by secondary sources. Thirdly, beginning with Montaigne and Cervantes, students explore the early modern phenomena of book ownership and reading as a private enterprise. In the fourth section, students revisit works and concepts encountered earlier in the course through the lens of contemporary theorists who have questioned the relationship between author, text, and reader: Mikhail Bakhtin and Jorge Luis Borges (both of whom discuss Don Quixote) and Jacques Derrida, who discusses Phaedrus. Finally, Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy allows students to ask if, in his words, "the medium [really] is the message." In visits to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Newberry Library, students compare the activity of reading with the viewing of art and consider the materiality of books in light of a digital future.

Associated Products

Why - and What - Should We Read? (Web Resource)
Title: Why - and What - Should We Read?
Author: Stuart Patterson
Abstract: This is a website designed as a general resource for students in the course "Why - and What - Should We Read?" Secondarily, it is intended to serve as a resource for Shimer College students and faculty, providing historical background on various aspects of the material culture and social history of texts and topics covered in the College's "great books" curriculum.
Year: 2015
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: This website is currently hosted at I chose this option as the best way to begin building the site without having to learn the processes involved in more independent hosting while creating a baseline of content for the site. I intend to move the site to a hosting service that will allow me to add more features to the website than the current host allows.