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On the Road Again to the Newberry

On the Road Again to the Newberry May 27, 2009

Excitement of mentoring students in humanities research brings Lake Forest professors back to ACM program

Imagine a seminar with no competing classes … filled with extraordinary students … held at one of the world’s premier research libraries. For a professor in the humanities at a selective liberal arts college, this just might be heaven.

David GeorgeDavid George

While David George and Benjamin Goluboff might not speak of the ACM Newberry Seminar in celestial terms, there’s no doubt about the enthusiasm these two Lake Forest College professors share for the program. Teaching the seminar is a “privilege,” “exciting,” and “a very enriching experience,” they say.

Goluboff and George taught the Newberry Seminar three years ago and enjoyed it so much that they will return in fall 2010. As George notes, “we knew we wanted to teach the seminar again the moment we walked out the door” at the end of the semester in 2006.

Ben GoluboffBen Goluboff

The seminar brings 15-20 students to Chicago each fall to conduct independent research at the Newberry Library, an independent, world-class research library and community of scholars. One of ACM’s longest-running off-campus programs – it began in 1965 – the Newberry Seminar is team-taught by a pair of professors, often colleagues from the same college. Professors George (Modern Languages and Literatures) and Goluboff (English) from Lake Forest are among just a handful of faculty who have been selected to lead the seminar a second time and the only team to teach more than once.

For the students as well as the professors the Newberry Seminar offers a rare experience. “Opportunities for student research on campus are not like this,” says Goluboff, because the Newberry boasts such incredible collections of primary materials and the students work closely with the program faculty, the Newberry’s expert staff, and each other. “For many of the students,” he adds, “the seminar is a dry run for graduate school.”

Entrance to the Newberry Library

The topic for the fall 2010 seminar, as it was in 2006, will be “On the Road: Intercultural Encounters in Europe and the Americas,” a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary look at travel and travel writing over the past four centuries. The seminar readings and discussion will compare European experiences and texts with their New World counterparts from the United States and Latin America in the context of the Atlantic world. The seminar topic, like the Newberry collections, lends itself to broad engagement across the humanities, including history, art history, English, philosophy, languages, and religious studies.

The seminar syllabus is “a point of departure into the Newberry’s collections,” says Goluboff. “From there, the students follow their curiosity” to discover materials of all sorts – manuscripts, books, letters, maps – that spark their interests and lead to their individual projects. For example, one student in the 2006 seminar was intrigued by the cartography collection and conducted research on Dutch map-making in the 16th century. The students work closely with the Library staff, who guide them as they explore the Newberry’s collections.

The relationships among the students are also instrumental to the seminar’s success. “The seminar creates an intellectual community” says George, and as the semester progresses, the students learn how to communicate effectively as a group and to discuss and critique each other’s work constructively.

Newberry Seminar participants in the study room at the Library. Photo by Emma Sundberg.

The student projects – independent research culminating in a major paper equivalent to a senior thesis – provide the central focus of the Newberry Seminar. It is an intense semester for both the students and the faculty. “It’s like mentoring fifteen student theses at one time,” says George, and includes lots of one-to-one work with students.

The subject of travel literature is of special interest to both professors. As a graduate student specializing in American literature, Goluboff had an opportunity for an assistantship on a program in London. Making the most of the location, he studied the travel writing of Americans in England, which became the subject of his dissertation.

George’s interest in travel literature developed as he was teaching a course on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. There is a large body of writing – a combination of travel literature and literary criticism – by people who have retraced the route taken by Don Quixote in the novel, says George, some of them traveling on horseback. George, a cycling enthusiast, hopes to follow the trail by bicycle and to write about his experience.

In the meantime, George and Goluboff already are preparing for their return engagement at the Newberry, where they will help another group of students stretch their academic horizons.

Read more about the ACM Newberry Seminar in the Humanities and the Newberry Library.

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