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Huck, Jim, and Jim Crow

A National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Summer Teacher Workshop

Session I: July 9 - July 13, 2012

Session II: July 23 - July 27, 2012

Dear Colleague:

Thank you for your interest in our National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Teacher Workshop Huck, Jim and Jim Crow, an outstanding professional opportunity to deepen your understanding of the socio-historical and political context of Twain's 1885 masterpiece Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Our program will focus on the complex racial climate of the post-Reconstruction era at both the national and local levels, as well as the ways in which attitudes toward newly enfranchised African Americans influenced the novel's content and composition. More specifically, the workshop will examine the impact that Mark Twain's experiences and personal relationships had on his views concerning racial equality and his representation of African Americans during the most fruitful period of his life from 1871 to 1891 when he was a celebrated resident of Hartford, Connecticut.


I am sure you know that Mark Twain is one of America's most important authors. He was a renowned novelist, humorist, and social commentator, and is still recognized as an icon of American literature and culture. Twain revolutionized the form of the novel by focusing it on realistic portrayals of contemporary life, by the use of authentic dialects for his characters, and by the use of satirical humor as a tool for provoking deeper thought on the most controversial social issues of his day - issues that are as relevant now as they were in Twain's time.

NEH LogosMany regard Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as Twain's greatest novel, but it is often mischaracterized as an abolitionist work; on the contrary, Twain did not begin to compose it until 1876, more than a decade after Emancipation.

The book was, in fact, written as a reaction to the failure of Reconstruction, and the resurgence of racism in the South after the contested presidential election of 1876, as evidenced by the widespread adoption of so-called "Jim Crow" laws. Therefore, our workshop will use Mark Twain's life and works, and the museum's collections and resources, including the landmark Mark Twain House, as tools to examine this pivotal, but often overlooked period in American history.

NEH LogosIt is ironic and unfortunate that the central message of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is often lost in the controversy generated by Twain's repeated use the most offensive of all racial epithets to accurately depict the savagery of white racists. Racism is ugly, and its expression is uncomfortable to read. But Twain's use of such language was purposeful. He wanted to convey a realistic portrayal of the bigotry of the period in which the book was written - bigotry that has had an indelible and continuing impact on our nation's history and culture.

NEH LogosAs an educator you are well aware of the fact that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most challenged books in America's schools, and many districts are increasingly reluctant to include it in their curriculum. As a result, teachers from across the country are in frequent contact with the museum seeking guidance on how to teach this book effectively and appropriately in the classroom. Our 2012 NEH Landmarks Summer Teacher Workshop Huck, Jim, and Jim Crow is a comprehensive and timely opportunity for you to enhance your depth of scholarship and refine your sensitivity concerning Twain's masterpiece which is so critical for successfully teaching the book with confidence and credibility in the diverse classrooms of today's schools.

For specific details of the program, click on these links:

Now I ask you, what better way is there to spend a week during the summer than by taking a very deep dive with leading scholars into the literary and historical sources on the life and legacy of Mark Twain as it relates to race relations in America during a pivotal time in our national development?! If this is the kind of intellectual experience that charges your battery as a professional educator, then get started on your application now! I look forward to hearing from you!


Craig Hotchkiss
Education Program Manager
The Mark Twain House & Museum

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Writing at the Mark Twain House

Improve and develop your writing where Twain wrote. Our Writing at the Mark Twain House programs, launched in 2010, have created deep bonds among participants and instructors alike. Click here.