This summer at UChicago Richard Strier led sixteen scholars through the works of two masters of lyric poetry in "George Herbert and Emily Dickinson," a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers.
These annual summer seminars are primarily aimed at enabling educators with heavy course loads to spend time as scholars and researchers working on an academic topic in which they already have a developed interest. Strier’s five-week seminar brought together graduate students, lecturers, poets, and professors to work collectively on the two poets and separately on their own related writing.
The relationship between the two poets “was a scholarly itch that needed to be scratched,” said Strier, the Frank L. Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Department of English Language and Literature. Strier first alluded to Herbert and Dickinson’s connection in his 1983 book Love Known: Theology and Experience in George Herbert’s Poetry and said the seminar provided the opportunity to further investigate “a topic in which I have been interested for decades.”
The academically intense environment of the seminar (three 3-hour sessions per week) sparked new interest for participants in exploring the intersection between Dickinson and Herbert (of whom Dickinson was a great reader) in both the classroom and personal research. For Jessica Hock, a graduate student participant from the University of California at Berkeley, the seminar helped her prepare a syllabus exploring English Renaissance poetry and American poetry, and also stimulated plans “to eventually publish an article or two on Herbert.”
The class also focused Strier’s own research. “[The seminar] made me want to write the book that I have, for all these decades, thought was lurking in the topic,” said Strier, “and I will explicitly and necessarily acknowledge the contribution the seminar made to my own thinking.”