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Grant number like: AQ-50786-12

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

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants
Education Programs

[Grant products]

$24,752 (approved)
$24,193 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2012 – 8/31/2016

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

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.