This conference addressed resonant episodes in the teaching of Shakespeare in America. It brought scholars and teachers of English and American cultures and literatures into productive conversation with historians of rhetoric and education. Speakers drew fresh case studies from the earliest relevant archival discoveries through the first third of the twentieth century. Among other topics, individual papers investigated shifting emphases in the Shakespearean canon, the impact of college entrance requirements on classroom instruction, and (what was deemed to be) historically accurate staging for productions at the Chicago World’s Fair, with the subsequent distribution of abbreviated school texts. The roundtable discussion with the commentators probed the place of this new work in our intellectual heritage and discursive traditions.
Speakers, commentators and conference-goers addressed diverse questions such as: Why Shakespeare? Under what conditions did Shakespeare’s plays become an integral component of America’s cultural literacy, its moral education, its civic formation? At what levels of instruction, for what socio-economic classes and ethnic groups, and playing what roles in American political, military, or social histories? What exemplary “Shakespeares” have American classrooms created, for what purposes, and at what cross-purposes? With what kinds of records may scholars tell what kinds of histories of the teaching of Shakespeare?
The conference was designated as a "We the People" project by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Barnes & Noble Booksellers, W.W. Norton & Company, and Simon & Schuster, Inc. were corporate sponsors.