Every semester, Cheryl Carpenter tries to think of new ways to introduce Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” to her college students.
An English instructor at Alabama A&M, a historically black college in Normal, Ala., Carpenter said students sometimes are confused about the setting and context of the 1937 novel about an independent black woman’s quest for identity.
But after listening to Temple University history professor Bettye Collier-Thomas talk at a Harvard University program about how she dove into dusty attics and forgotten archival material to research her book on black women leaders, Carpenter said she immediately came up with ideas to recreate visual scenes through her lectures.
Carpenter and around two dozen college teachers from around the country are participating this month in a Harvard program aimed at training professors to integrate more black history into their classrooms and research projects.
The “National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for College Teachers” at the university’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute brought the group to Cambridge for an intensive three-week program, including archival research, debates on history, and lectures by some of the nation’s leading scholars in black studies.
“This is amazing,” Carpenter said. “I’m not a historian. I teach English so I don’t go to the archives much. But the topics we’ve talked about cover so much and now I have so many ideas.”
Among those giving lectures were Pulitzer Prize winners Eric Foner and Steven Hahn.