Since 2001, I have taught college level art history classes to low-income adults in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston through the Clemente Course in the Humanities. For a dozen years, I served as the Academic Director of the course.
The Clemente Course in the Humanities is a year-long, college-level introduction to the humanities taught to adults. We teach art history, moral philosophy, American history, literature and writing & critical thinking in Monday and Wednesday evening classes that run from mid-September through early June. The program provides free tuition, books and materials to qualified students. Graduates who complete the work of the program earn six college credits from Bard College, which can be transferred to any college or university.
The course is taught by dedicated teachers who have taught at Harvard, Boston College, Assumption College, UMass Boston, Framingham State and more.
Many people who have taken the course have gone on (or back) to college. Others take the class to educate themselves and exercise their brains, or to meet like-minded people in their community.
Students range in age from 20 to 75; they are parents, grandparents, neighbors, churchgoers, readers — anyone without a degree from a four-year college who is willing to commit to the course is welcome. Some films and slideshows that capture the classroom and student experience can be found here, here and here.
The Clemente Course is taught across the country, including in five other sites in Massachusetts, supported by MassHumanities. Since 2001, the course has been offered in Dorchester in partnership with the Codman Square Health Center.
Boston Clemente Timeline
- In 1995, Earl Shorris teaches the first course at the Roberto Clemente Family Guidance Center in Lower Manhattan; the site gives the course a name.
- In 2000, the first Clemente Course in Massachusetts begins at the Care Center in Holyoke. Kristin O’Connell, Associate Director of Mass Humanities, is the driving force in bringing this concept to the commonwealth.
- In 2001, the class is established in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston as a partnership with Codman Square Health Center. Neil Dolan is the first Academic Director, followed by Tim McCarthy.
- From 2003 through 2005, I co-directed the course with Wendy Quinones. Tim McCarthy then returned as Academic Director.
- In 2011, I took over as Academic Director again, this time by myself.
- In 2014, Timothy P McCarthy, is awarded the Stanley Paterson Professorship in American History; the first endowed chair of any kind for any Clemente program in the world.
- In 2014, documentary film producers James Rutenbeck and Diana Fischer contacted the course about making a film about our students. The film resulting film, A Reckoning in Boston, will be shown at film festivals and colleges in 2021 ahead of a national broadcast.
- In 2014, President Obama awarded the Clemente Course a National Humanities Medal.
- In 2016, I invited our writing instructor, Ann Murphy, to be an Associate Director of our course.
- In 2017, David Montgomery of the Washington Post included our class in his article about the effects of defunding the NEA and NEH.
- In 2017, I was part of a team that wrote a successful NEH grant to develop a Clemente Course for veterans, eventually called the Clemente Veterans Initiative (CVI).
- In 2018 and 2019, I team taught a CVI course with Ann Murphy and Ruth Rohde. Among the many highlights was a guest lecture by Pulitzer-nominated historian Megan Kate Nelson, and a dramatic reading of Euripedes’ Herakles Gone Mad by local actors Linda Goetz and Eliott Purcell.
- Following the 2019-2020 school year, I stepped down as Academic Director and Ann Murphy and Julia Legas served as co-directors, taking the course online through the pandemic.
- In the autumn of 2020, the Clemente faculty collaborate on an online series of discussions focused on topics like community. Alumni and new participants join from across the country.
- On January 17, 2022, A Reckoning in Boston airs nationwide on PBS as part of the Independent Lens series to critical acclaim.
- An article in the NEH’s Humanities Magazine, Building the Just City, focuses on A Reckoning, Clemente in Boston, and quotes local faculty (including me).
- In Spring of 2022, after another successful NEH grant, I am co-teaching a CVI course online with Jim Dubinsky of Virginia Tech. This course incorporates service learning and discussion facilitation training into the syllabus. Bancroft Prize winner Ari Kelman visits our zoom to discuss writing Battle Lines, his history of the Civil War, as a graphic novel.