Skip to content Skip to navigation

Institute 2018 - Dear Colleague Letter

Print version of "Dear Colleague Letter" (pdf - 364kb)


John Steinbeck, Social Critic and Ecologist

A National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for 4th-12th Grade Teachers that will explore Steinbeck’s sense of place, his California fiction and prose, as well as his environmental, scientific and political sensibilities.

Held on the Monterey Peninsula, July 1 through July 20, 2018

Dear Colleague,

John Steinbeck, author of more than thirty books, winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1940), Nobel Prize for Literature (1962) and United States Medal of Freedom (1964), is perhaps best known as a writer who laid bare the suffering of workers and migrants during the 1930s in Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939). He is also a regional writer in the best sense, for his passionate attachment to place and to California’s history and diverse peoples informs much of his finest work, from early short stories to the compelling East of Eden (1952). Throughout his long career as social critic, he was unafraid to question “the tomorrow of my people,” yet optimistic enough to add, “my questioning is compounded of some fear, more hope, and great confidence.” Equally important, Steinbeck’s sense of place and history was enriched by a long-standing interest in science. His friendship with marine biologist Edward F. Ricketts from 1930-1948 had a deep and lasting impact on his work, evident in the book that was his personal favorite, Sea of Cortez (1941). Steinbeck’s moral and ecological sensibilities are deeply intertwined and suffuse all of his work, fiction and nonfiction.
John Steinbeck was a social protest novelist, an ecological visionary and an incisive commentator on American values and ideals -- one who spent most of his career exploring what “the common good” really meant. He is a writer who delineated with great clarity the contours of his region; one who both critiqued his country and defended its democratic freedoms -- and one who was convinced that humans must also recognize and value their relationships to all other species. Despite his thematic devotion to central California valleys and the Pacific coast, Steinbeck’s work transcends local boundaries, and his attention to national affairs makes him one of America’s most socially engaged and relevant 20th century writers.

            This National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute will explore Steinbeck’s intersecting visions and consider why his work deserves complex consideration in ways that are not usually taught. We will discuss the continuing relevance of his sense of place, his great labor trilogy, his ecological and scientific perspectives, his treatment of race and ethnicity, and his probing commentaries on Cold War America and looming threats to the nation. This Summer Institute’s holistic approach to Steinbeck’s work will help bridge the divides between humanities and sciences, between literary analysis and historical contexts, between historical and contemporary perspectives, and between fiction and nonfiction

The three-week 2018 Steinbeck Institute will held at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University in Pacific Grove, CA. It will begin late afternoon on Sunday, July 1, and end at 10:00 pm on Friday, July 20, after a final group dinner and presentation of projects generated during the Institute. The first half of the Institute will primarily consider Steinbeck’s “California” fiction, including the core texts to be considered--The Long Valley (1938), Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and East of Eden (1952). The second part of the institute examines Steinbeck’s “Sea” work, including Sea of Cortez and Cannery Row (1945). During this part we will also consider Steinbeck’s work in light of selections from Aldo Leopold, Gary Snyder, Robinson Jeffers and Rachel Carson. Here Steinbeck’s scientific sensibilities emerge in considering historical and contemporary social and environmental issues, including habitat degradation, destructive fishing practices and climate change.
Throughout the Institute, NEH Summer Scholars will develop an increased appreciation for the links between the novels and scientific ideas and how the two bodies of work inform each other. As part of this process, we will pursue the social history and ecological awareness that are at the core of Steinbeck’s writing: local agricultural and fishing industries, the California mission legacy, migrant histories that shaped regional diversity, and the interest in marine studies shared with Ricketts. Steinbeck scholars as well as historians and biologists will lead workshops that focus on the regional influences and historical and ecological contexts of several of his major novels. We will make on-site visits to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, the Red Pony Ranch, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Cannery Row and the Ed Ricketts lab, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Monterey Bay tide pools. An agricultural tour of working fields in the Salinas Valley will inform NEH Summer Scholars about crop diversity, water use, and labor and housing issues. We will also spend one day on Monterey Bay with local marine biologists to explore marine life from microscopic plankton to great whales as well as local fishing histories.
A variety of approaches to teaching will be modeled during the Institute. Two sessions will be devoted to integrating performance and performance theory to facilitate classroom interpretation of texts. Another session will be given by a professor of creative writing, who will examine the structure of Steinbeck’s short stories and how they reveal the author’s approach to writing fiction. Other workshops will consider the importance of voice and ethnicity ‒ exploring both the varied regional voices that Steinbeck sought to include in his novels and analyzing how these voices continue to speak to larger issues in American society. In the second half of the Institute, we will examine ways in which field studies and natural history can enrich the reading of much of Steinbeck’s work, including fiction.

The Program Directors, Institute Coordinator, and participating facilitators will alsomeet with NEH Summer Scholars in small-group sessions and one-on-one to assist with adapting new materials and approaches for their classrooms. Scholars will develop a lesson-plan project and contribute their lesson plans and related curricular materials to the Steinbeck Institute website that hosts scholarly resources, an image gallery, and curriculum materials developed by previous NEH Summer Institutes on John Steinbeck

Core Faculty
Co-Director Susan Shillinglaw is a Professor of English at San Jose State University and Director of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. William Gilly is a Professor of Biology at Stanford University and has participated in all previous Steinbeck Institutes. They have co-taught courses at Stanford University that are designed to bridge humanities and science – “Holistic Biology,” an intensive field course, and “Views of a Changing Sea: Literature and Science,” an introductory seminar intended to enhance environmental awareness in freshmen through literature, both scientific and poetic. They frequently lecture together on Steinbeck, Ricketts, and the Sea of Cortez, and a relevant interview with both scholars is posted on the NEH EDSITEment website. 
Dr. Susan Shillinglaw is a noted Steinbeck scholar, she has published several articles on the author and has edited Steinbeck’s journalism (America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction) and collections of essays. She has also written introductions to Penguin editions of Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, A Russian Journal, The Winter of Our Discontent and The Portable Steinbeck (2012)She is the author of A Journey Into Steinbeck’s California (2006; 2011) and On Reading The Grapes of Wrath (Penguin 2014); copies of both books will be sent to participants. She also wrote a biography of Steinbeck’s first marriage, Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage (University of Nevada Press, 2013
Dr. William Gilly is based at Hopkins Marine Station and was Director and Chief Scientist of the Sea of Cortez Exploration and Education Project in 2004 that retraced Steinbeck and Ricketts’s 1940 trip. In addition to a scientific career with numerous peer-reviewed publications, he has engaged in many outreach projects involving print, television, radio and web media. The Squids4Kids program, which he started in 2008, brings issues of ocean health to K-12classrooms in California and Mexico, provides Humboldt squid specimens and online educational materials to teachers throughout the US, and participates in family science-events, including the National Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC. His current research on squid in the Sea of Cortez and Monterey Bay is focused on control of skin color and on alterations of life history strategies in response to climatic anomalies.
Brett Navin will act as the Institute Coordinator for 2018. He is a teacher at Blue Heron School in Port Townsend, WA, and was an NEH Summer Scholar in this Institute in 2016.

Additional guest faculty (and their primary contribution) will include:

  • Dr. Robert DeMott, Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus, Ohio University: author of Steinbeck’s Typewriter: Essays on His Art and editor of Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath as well as the Steinbeck titles for the Library of America (Steinbeck’s journals and nonfiction, The Grapes of Wrath)
  • Dr. Chris Fink, Professor of English, Beloit College: a contributing editor for Steinbeck Studies and author of a collection of short fiction, Farmer’s Almanac (Steinbeck’s short stories)
  • Dr. Matthew Spangler, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, San Jose State University: author and director of over thirty adaptations of literature for the stage (demonstration and consideration of pedagogy performance)
  • Anthony Newfield: actor and author of “Steinbeck and the Land,” a presentation he has given in New York City and in California (Of Mice and Men -  film, play and musical)
  • Dr. Scot Guenter, Professor of Humanities, San Jose State University: American Studies teacher (cultural contexts of East of Eden - novel and film)
  • Dr. Persis Karim, Director, Iranian Diaspora Studies Center and Professor of Comparative and World Literature, San Francisco State University: author and editor of Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian American Writers (2013) and Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora (2006) (working class voices in The Grapes of Wrath)
  • Dr. Mary Adler, Professor of English at California State University, Channel Islands: secondary education specialist (heteroglossia in The Grapes of Wrath)
  • Dr. Craig Strang, Associate Director, Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley: Director and Principle Investigator of the NSF-funded Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence - California which led the development of the Communicating Ocean Sciences college courses and professional learning network for informal educators (exploration of the rocky intertidal habitat at Hopkins Marine Station)
  • Dr. Gavin Jones, Frederick P. Rehmus Family Professor of the Humanities, Stanford University: teacher of Steinbeck literature, author of 3 books, including Failure and the American Writer: A Literary History (2014), and currently writing a book on Steinbeck.
  • Pete Barraza, Santa Monica High School: teacher facilitator (teaching California history in secondary schools)
  • Additional teachers of California history, marine biology, and Steinbeck studies and relevant authors will assist with workshops, discussions and field trips.

Expectations of NEH Summer Scholars
NEH Summer Scholars in the Steinbeck Institute should expect an intensive but rewarding experience. Workshops are scheduled Monday through Friday, with weekends free until Sunday evening, when we will gather for group discussions. Several weekday evenings are set aside for film showings, informal meals, and other gatherings. Institute sessions will include lectures, discussions, small-group workshops, writing, participatory performance, and field work ‒ each providing a different methodology for exploring the readings. Intertidal field work involves careful walking over wet, slippery terrain but is not physically strenuous or challenging. NEH Summer Scholars are expected to attend all non-optional events.
Time at the Institute will be filled with discussion and activities, and Summer Scholars are expected to have read all books before they arrive. Major works are Of Mice and Men, The Long Valley, The Grapes of Wrath, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Cannery Row and East of Eden. A number of short reading assignments will be provided at the start of the Institute on a USB flash drive. NEH Summer Scholars will also be provided with composition books for documenting their thoughts in the course of workshop sessions as well as during their free time.
NEH Summer Scholars will receive support in translating ideas, content, and approaches from workshops into an appropriate format to engage students. Each participant will create a final project. This project will include lesson plans that will be presented in outline at the closing session and submitted by one month after conclusion of the Institute. All final lesson plans will be posted on the Teacher Resources page of the Institute website.
A letter will be sent to all NEH Summer Scholars after acceptance detailing specific readings and an updated calendar of presentation topics. 

Applicants’ Qualifications and Eligibility
We welcome applications from a variety of disciplines, including natural and social sciences. Previous experience teaching Steinbeck or American literature is not required, but applicants must wish to incorporate knowledge gained in the Institute into their professional lives in some meaningful way.
First consideration will be given to applicants who have not previously attended an NEH Seminar or Institute. When choices must be made between equally qualified candidates, preference is given to those who will enhance the diversity of the program.
NEH Summer Institutes are designed principally for full-time and part-time teachers and librarians, including those new to the profession (teaching five years or less), in public, charter, independent, and religiously affiliated schools, as well as home schooling parents. Other K-12 school-system personnel such administrators, substitute teachers, and curriculum developers are also eligible to participate. 
Teachers at schools in the United States or its territorial possessions or Americans teaching in foreign schools where at least 50 percent of the students are American nationals are eligible for this program. Applicants must be United States citizens, residents of U.S. jurisdictions, or foreign nationals who have been residing in the United States or its territories for at least the three years immediately preceding the application deadline. Foreign nationals teaching abroad at non-U.S. chartered institutions are not eligible to apply.
Individuals may not apply to an NEH Summer Institute whose director is a family member, is affiliated with the same institution, or is someone with whom they have previously studied.
To be considered eligible, applicants must submit a complete application. This includes an NEH cover sheet and all materials specified in the NEH Application Information and Instructions document.

Academic resources
NEH Summer Scholars will be able to use the Harold A. Miller Library at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University during business hours (9 AM – 5 PM weekdays) and at other times by special arrangement. A collection of Steinbeck texts will be held on reserve there, and  individual study space and printers will also be available. In addition, the Directors will make key secondary texts available.  
Visitor wireless connection will be available everywhere on the Hopkins campus. Summer Scholars are strongly encouraged to bring a laptop computer.

NEH Summer Scholars will be housed at the Olympia Lodge at 1140 Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove, 1.5 miles from the location of the Institute at Hopkins Marine Station near Cannery Row. Double room rates are $89.00 + tax per night for a large shared room with continental breakfast. A few singles are available for this same price. All rooms have Wi-Fi internet access that has been recently been upgraded.
The Olympia Lodge is located a block from the Pacific Ocean and about a half mile from downtown Pacific Grove, where Steinbeck lived from 1930-36 (and where his family had a summer home when he was growing up). Cannery Row is about 1.5 miles from the Lodge, and downtown Monterey about 3 miles. Monterey-Salinas Transit buses serve all locations on the Monterey Peninsula, as well as Carmel, Big Sur, Salinas, and San Jose, where rail connections to San Francisco are possible. The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail makes all locations between Pacific Grove and Castroville easily accessible and gives NEH Summer Scholars opportunity to be within walking and biking distance of numerous Steinbeck sites and points of interest on a daily basis. Many previous NEH scholars have rented bikes for the duration of the Institute. Daily transportation by van will also be provided between Olympia Lodge and Hopkins Marine Station (once in the morning and once in the evening).

NEH Summer Scholars participating in a three-week Institute will be awarded a $2700 stipend, which is meant to help cover travel, housing, and food costs. Half of the stipend will be given to participants when they arrive, and the remaining amount will be provided near the end of the project. In order to be eligible for the full amount of the stipend, NEH Summer Scholars must attend all required events and activities for the duration of the Institute.

Continuing Education Credit (CEUs) for NEH Summer Scholars
Optional continuing education units (CEUs are not equivalent to college course credit, however) can be earned for 1-6 units at a nominal fee. These units must be arranged with San Jose State University. Additional work beyond attendance and full participation during the Institute is not required to earn this credit. 

Application Procedures and Deadlines
Your completed application should be postmarked no later than March 1, 2018 and should be addressed to: William Gilly and Susan Shillinglaw, Hopkins Marine Station, 120 Ocean View Boulevard, Pacific Grove, CA 93950. Please send three copies of your complete application.
Applications should include all materials specified in the NEH Application Information and Instructions. An application cover sheet must be completed and submitted online and printed and enclosed with the NEH application. The application must include a resume of educational background, noting specific courses taken in American literature and subjects related to the theme of this Summer Institute, and the name, title, phone number, and e-mail address of two professional references (not to exceed five pages). In addition, the application must include an essay addressing your academic and personal interests in the subject to be studied (no more than four double spaced pages). The essay is an important part of the application and should address your qualifications and experiences that equip you to do the planned work and to make a contribution to the learning community. It should also describe what you want to accomplish by participating, particularly the relationship of the program of study to your teaching assignments and goals, including any ideas for individual research and writing projects.  
Three reviewers (both Directors and Institute Coordinator) will evaluate applications. All decisions will be announced on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. Successful applicants will have until Friday, April 6 to accept or decline the offer.

We look forward to many productive discussions, stimulated and enriched by the historical and contemporary backdrop of the Monterey Peninsula. Our goal is to invite NEH Summer Scholars into a conversation that examines connections, the ways in which literature, history, geography, science, and social awareness intersect. This is the broad vision that Steinbeck embraced. We hope each NEH Summer Scholar will come away with a richer appreciation of the ways that Steinbeck’s sense of place ‒ both local and national ‒  informs his social, historical and ecological vision of America. We trust that each NEH Summer Scholar will take ideas and knowledge back to students for further discussion and exploration. Please join us!

Sincerely yours,


Dr. Susan Shillinglaw and Dr. William Gilly
Co-Directors, Steinbeck Institute