Many will agree that Eastern Illinois University is not a large university.
That didn't seem to matter, however, when the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded David Raybin a grant for more than $116,000, thereby enabling the veteran English professor the opportunity to represent the university abroad. He and his wife, Susanna Fein (a professor of English at Kent State University), plan to team-teach a four-week summer seminar in London and Canterbury, England, beginning June 22.
The seminar, titled "Chaucer's Canterbury Tales," will be geared toward teachers of grades K through 12. Fifteen individuals, representing schools from across the U.S., have enrolled, having been chosen from among more than 75 applicants.
Raybin, who spent nearly two months writing and re-rewriting the grant application -- "17 pages, plus appendices" -- admitted that "although we turned in the best proposal we could, I wasn't optimistic. There were just so many proposals under consideration."
And, he added, "If you review the grants, you'll notice many of them go to much larger schools -- schools such as Columbia or Harvard," Raybin said. "Many of these seminars are led by persons from major universities; they often do them every two years."
And usually, he added, the seminars are held on the campus where the teacher is from.
So it was with much delight that he and Fein received the news that their grant had been chosen as one of only 15 in its class to be funded.
Raybin noted that the NEH has traditionally supported Chaucer activities.
"But it couldn't have happened without the full support of the university," Raybin said, explaining that Eastern actually receives the money and administers the grant. Funds will go toward housing, salaries and administrative costs, as well as books, supplies and guest lecturers, and provide stipends of $3,000 to participating teachers/students.
"That $3,000 doesn't pay all their expenses," Raybin said. "The experience ends up costing them some out of their own pockets."
That, he added, proves how highly self-motivated these teachers are.
"And working with this sort of person is highly enjoyable," Raybin said. "These teachers truly want to study, and really fine teachers love their subjects. That matters tremendously to me."
The group will spend three weeks at the Mile End campus of Queen Mary College, University of London, and one week at Canterbury Christ Church University in Canterbury. The class will meet in a classroom setting, but also have time to tour sites "related to Chaucer," who Raybin calls "one of the great writers."
Both Raybin and Fein are well versed in their subject. Raybin is the joint editor of "Closure in 'The Canterbury Tales': The Role of the Parson's Tale," and is the author of numerous articles on medieval subjects, including Chaucer. Since 1989, he has directed annual public workshops on Chaucer and other authors for high school teachers and librarians under the sponsorship of the Illinois Humanities Council.
Fein has written numerous articles on Chaucer, and has co-directed a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for High School Teachers on "The Canterbury Tales." She currently serves as a trustee of the New Chaucer Society.
The couple serve as co-editors of the "The Chaucer Review: A Journal of Medieval Studies and Literary Criticism," a publication that "publishes studies of language, sources, social and political contexts, aesthetics and associated meanings of Chaucer's poetry, as well as articles on medieval literature, philosophy, theology and mythography relevant to study of the poet and his contemporaries, predecessors and audiences."
Raybin welcomes the summer's opportunity to work with his wife and says that after the seminar is over, "I'll sit back and reflect on how it worked."
"I wouldn't be surprised if I applied for another (grant) in 2010," he added.