In preparation for the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States, the National Endowment for the Humanities put out a call for projects promoting a deeper understanding of American history and culture. The initiative, “A More Perfect Union,” provides funding opportunities across the agency’s seven grant-making divisions for projects that advance civic education and knowledge of our core principles of government.
“This agency-wide initiative will help Americans better understand the world’s oldest constitutional democracy and how our founding ideals are met in a pluralistic society,” says NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede in a Constitution Day video commemorating the signing of the US Constitution September 17, 1787. “As we celebrate the revered document dedicated to ‘We the People,’ it is essential to share the story of all the people. NEH is committed to doing exactly this.”
Derek Alderman and Joshua Kenna with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, received a grant to host a three-week summer teacher institute in 2021 titled Geographic Mobility in the African American Freedom Struggle. The institute will provide 25 K-12 educators from across the US with an opportunity to participate in the NEH special initiative by exploring the history of the Civil Rights movement through geographic mobility—given that unfettered geographic mobility is a core democratic principle at the heart of the African American freedom struggle.
The proposed institute is a joint effort between Alderman, professor in the UT Department of Geography, and Kenna, associate professor in the UT Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education, with support from the Tennessee Geographic Alliance, and Ethan Bottone (’20).
“Our project promises to bring together new critical scholarship in Black geographies to practicing teachers, which will in turn help their students learn how geographic mobility has long been central to the fight for African American civil rights and self-determination,” Alderman says. “While such a pedagogical approach is long overdue, it is urgently needed now as the nation reckons with the unjust way that the movements of Black communities continue to be policed and controlled.”
The goal of the planned institute is to contribute to the intellectual growth of participating educators and prepare them to create and disseminate important synergies between the teaching of history and the teaching of geography—two subjects increasingly joined in the educational standards of many states.
“In addition to having a well-rounded curriculum that utilizes several experts from the field and provides experiential learning opportunities, we’re also proud of our strong emphasis on building and fostering relationships with teachers,” Kenna says. “The goal is not achieved when they acquire the content, it is only achieved when we help them grapple with and overcome pedagogical and logistical hurdles so that they can teach this content in their classrooms.”
The institute offers a model of critical thought, instruction, and pedagogical application that supports ongoing calls for greater numbers of social studies educators, especially those in a still white-dominated field of geography, to address power and inequity.
Kenna will work closely with participants to recruit and mentor them throughout the project.
“The mentorship will include modeling best practices, helping participants locate and organize resources, and collaborating in the development of a culminating project,” Kenna says.
Read more about the UT initiative, Geographic Mobility in the African American Freedom Struggle.
“A More Perfect Union” initiative builds upon NEH’s 54-year history of supporting humanities scholarship, public programs, education, and preservation projects that inform and enlighten Americans about the nation’s history, culture, literature, law, art, and traditions. Anchored in civics education, the initiative will pursue the overarching goals of broadening the reach and impact of the humanities, strengthening the nation’s humanities infrastructure, commemorating American democracy, and focusing on the needs of US troops, military families, and veterans.
About the National Endowment for the Humanities
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at neh.gov.