History professor receives grant

History professor William Cook recently earned a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities that will fund a seminar he will teach in Siena, Italy in the summer of 2009.

Cook, currently on leave to teach at Wabash College in Indiana, was awarded $140,414 for the seminar, which will be attended by 15 teachers from both public and private schools. Participants in the seminar, entitled "The Thirteenth Century 'Lives' of St. Francis of Assisi," will study several textual and painted accounts of the life of St. Francis over the course of six weeks.

St. Francis of Assisi is a central figure in Cook's studies. He has already written three books and one biography on the saint as well as two books examining artistic representations of him.

"Saint Francis is the most well-known Catholic saint, outside Mary and Paul and the other biblical saints of course, and is an important figure in Europe's history," said Cook. "The Constitution doesn't say you can't talk about religion - you just can't promote it. St. Francis is an important character in European history, like Napoleon or Charlemagne."

According to Cook, the class will meet about four times a week for approximately three hours in the morning. Cook will also schedule field trips for participants - "anything from a one hour walk to a museum or church to an entire day in Florence," he said.

Cook hopes to impart upon teachers who attend the seminar the notion that "art is not just a decoration like it's treated as in history textbooks. Art explains how people understood the world."

According to Cook, in order to be awarded the NEH the grant, he had to write a detailed proposal because, "the unspoken slogan of the NEH is: 'We fund proposals, not ideas.'" There is a large amount of work that goes into acquiring these grants, and Cook said he was grateful that "the people in the grant office do a lot of the dirty work."

All of this work was not overwhelming to Cook, who has secured 11 other grants from the NEH.

"I wasn't exactly working from scratch," he said. "It was a matter of tweaking an older proposal for specifics to this seminar."

In about two weeks, estimated Cook, there will be a long letter on the Geneseo Web site describing the program for anyone who is interested in applying.

"I expect about 100 applications," he said.

Cook will review the applications and essays along with two other people, and select the 15 participants and alternates. The applications will be due on March 1.

Cook is looking forward to the seminar and said that, "it is proven that they really do work.

"Being a student again helps a teacher," he said. "The writing helps … unlike college professors who write all the time, high school teachers don't do formal writing as part of their job, so this is good for them. Also, sometimes, some teachers just need to recharge the old batteries."