Skip to main content

2016 Summer Teacher Seminars

The 2016 Common Ground Teachers institute will be held from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. June 24, 27-July 1. Teachers who submit a reservation by May 27 will be offered a place in one of this summer's Common Ground seminars. After May 27, participants will be added on a first-come, first-served basis until each seminar is filled. Please contact Elena Rios with any questions.

Apply for the 2016 seminars here.

Rewriting, Retelling, and Rereading America

Dr. Hayan Charara 

Anyone who has watched a Western knows something about the Native American experience. Similarly, anyone who owns a TV, a laptop, or reads the news knows a lot about Arabs and Muslims, black people, Asian Americans, and Mexican Americans. Whether what they know is “right” is another question. More often than not, when marginalized people and “minorities” appear in literature, they’re not the ones telling their own stories. Someone else speaks for them. How would their stories change if they told them? To find out, we will read works written by, and about, a diverse group of Americans that challenge the narratives about themselves found in mainstream representations. We will also screen films and documentaries related to the ideas and challenges that these works raise. A goal of the seminar: to shift the way we approach and interpret the narratives of other people. Another goal: to sharpen our critical and interpretive skills.  Through our readings and discussions, we will be trying not only to better understand the experiences of others but also to better understand our own experiences and how we construct them in relationship to each other.

Reading List 

  • Moustafa Bayoumi, How Does It Feel to be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America (2009)
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)
  • Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You (2015)
  • Ito Romo, The Border Is Burning (2013)
  • Erika T. Wurth, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend (2014)

The Megacity in Literature and Film

Dr. Merrilee Cunningham 

This summer we will look at the rise of the megacity in literature and film, starting with Gilgamesh and the importance of building walls around the city, and moving to an analysis of life in the megacity in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.  Working chronologically and developmentally, we will analyze the rise of the megacity as it is portrayed in literature. Using theorists such as Mike Davis, we will deal with access to the city, immigration and the city, gender and the city, and the economics of the city.  We will analyze the influence of technologies of defense, the effect of the rise of granaries and bureaucracies, the applications of steam power, rail systems, highway systems, infrastructure, electric grids, and the vertical city, ending with the influence of the internet on the megacity.  The following list is suggestive of the approach we will take; the final, shorter list of works will be distributed to teachers who are accepted to the seminar.)   


  • Gilgamesh
  • Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
  • Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
  • Penelope Lively, City of the Mind
  • Morrison, Jazz 

Nonfiction Resources (but not required reading)

  • Mike Davis, “Fortress Los Angeles”
  • George Simmel “The Metropolis and Mental Life”
  • Richard Lehan, The City in Literature
  • Henry Lefebre, “The Right to the City”
  • Winters, “An Immigrant Woman”


  • Metropolis
  • The Big Sleep
  • Midnight in Paris
  • District Nine

On the Road: Stories of Travel and Travail

Dr. William Monroe

Whether for work or for pleasure, whether forced or voluntary, travel is a universal human experience. While certain modes of luxury travel may allow a privileged few to stay safely inside their bubbles, for most of us travel involves some risk and vulnerability. Travel is, by definition, a “betwixt and between” experience, between a home place and a destination. Moving from one place to another can be a time of struggle and, like education itself, can be transformational for those who undertake the journey. We will explore several representative narratives of travel in different modes, including novels, stories, films, and a memoir. Following the Common Ground tradition, now its 26th year, we will be comparing and contrasting journey experiences in a variety of cultural, political, and historical milieus.


  • Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
  • Oxford Book of Travel Stories
  • William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways


  • Life of Pi
  • America America
  • The Motorcycle Diaries