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Sixteen fortunate school teachers will travel to Germany and the Czech Republic where for four weeks during the summer of 2013, they will participate in a seminar on the history and philosophy of the peaceful revolutions in east-central Europe.
Associate professor of political science, Christiane Olivo, will direct this Summer Seminar for Teachers with a $109,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
As Dr. Olivo explains in her proposal, it has been more than 20 years since the peaceful revolutions led to the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe; and while “the peaceful revolution is generally regarded as one of the most important events of the twentieth century, the significance of the philosophical ideas of East-Central European dissidents is often overlooked and their exact role in bringing down communism is still in dispute.”
The teachers from around the U.S. who are chosen to participate in the seminar will not only study and discuss numerous selected readings; they will do so in locations where the events about which they are reading occurred. The studies will be augmented by visits to sites such as Leipzig, an important center of dissident activities in the German Democrat Republic, for a city tour called “On the Trail of the Peaceful Revolution” and by lectures from guest speakers such as former Czech dissident, Dr. Martin Palouš.
Dr. Olivo states that, “The study of dissidence in East-Central Europe provides insight into the reasons that communism ultimately fell and the ‘power of the powerless’ to undermine totalitarian rule.” While some scholars believe that the political philosophies of those dissidents are not relevant outside of Soviet totalitarianism, the participants in this NEH Summer Seminar will examine whether they have a place in addressing the problems facing modern large-scale liberal democracies.
The seminar participants will look at three key questions: What role did democratic opposition movements play in the fall of communism? What were the philosophical ideas developed by dissidents in the civil societies of these communist countries? And, what is the ongoing significance of these political philosophies?
Following the seminar, a website will be created to disseminate lesson plans developed by the participants, display photos from their time in Europe, provide links to sources of information related to the seminar and contact information for guest speakers, and to provide a platform for continuing on-line discussion.
The 2013 program will be Dr. Olivo’s second prestigious NEH Summer Seminar award in four years.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.