The Liberal Arts Institute of the Association for Core Texts and Courses (ACTC) presents a pedagogy and curriculum development seminar:

“Reinventing and Rejuvenating the Liberal Arts in the 21st Century:

An introduction to the texts of the trivium, from the ancients to modernity.”

This seminar offers an introduction to the texts of the trivium, conceived as extending out of the ancients into modernity.  This seminar will be co-led by D. Ben DeSmidt, Associate Professor of Classics and Great Ideas at Carthage College, and Joshua Parens, Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the Graduate School of Liberal Arts, University of Dallas.  The seminar is supported by a generous grant of the Bradley Foundation and the ACTC Liberal Arts Institute.  The seminar will run for two weeks between July 7 and 20, 2019 at Carthage College (between Chicago and Milwaukee).

This letter describes the project’s origins.

View Project Syllabus

The deadline for submission was January 31, 2019.

Project Origins

Several years ago, ACTC conducted a study of the core texts of the West that had been regularly, infrequently, or rarely-if-ever d

iscussed at ACTC Annual Conferences.   While, undoubtedly, great texts are discussed at length in ACTC conferences and workshops, ACTC found that core texts of the trivium (and, similarly the quadrivium) within the liberal arts tradition are rarely included in ACTC panel deliberations.  By core texts of the trivium, we mean texts of and about the arts of logic and dialectic, rhetoric and eloquence, and grammar, whether of ancient or modern provenance.

To illustrate this absence in core text curricula: ACTC found that in most core text programs The Republic is often read in whole or in part, but the Gorgias or Cratylus, works on rhetoric and language, are almost never read.  Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics, Cicero’s On Friendship, and Augustine’s Confessions or The City of God will frequently be discussed at ACTC and appear in syllabi of core text programs.  But the Rhetoric, the Topics, or On Interpretation; De Inventione and De Oratore; and On Christian Doctrine rarely or never appear in ACTC discussions.   The absence of such texts in curricula extends to modernity – though the traditions of writing theoretically about or using the arts of the trivium has never died.

Collegiate and University education is about arts and science.   No education, today, leaves out science.  To leave out the texts of the liberal arts’ trivium is to leave out the rich discussions, formulations, and education about critical thinking, persuasion, and linguistic facility and clarity which the liberal arts tradition of great texts can offer.

The consequences of this absence are real. Let one finding stand for what many in the academy know: Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift found in national samplings that “three semesters of college education … have a barely noticeable impact on students’ skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.”  Quite probably, the lack of impact results from not teaching the liberal arts that would produce these capacities.

Yet, there is a deeper loss in not teaching such texts of the liberal arts and that loss goes directly to the nature of the Western Heritage, to how free our students are.  The arts of the trivium (and quadrivium) are central to Western invention, and, thereby, to freedom and joy in learning that the scope of the liberal arts open to students.  Not only did the ancients assert and develop the invention of culture through these arts, but the medieval invention of universities rested on them, the Renaissance and Reformation were deeply indebted to the trivium (as well as the quadrivium), and the reformulation of ancient sciences and politics into modern sciences and politics rested not only on geometry and math but on rhetoric (e.g., in Bacon).  Nor did the innovations of the liberal arts end when modernity began.   Most of America’s founders were deeply educated in the liberal arts, and their concerns with free speech, debate in a Senate, and factions in elections are signs of that.  The emancipators of American history – Lincoln, Douglass, Stanton, Anthony, Julia Ward Howe, Dubois, and King – all practically employed the liberal arts to invent freedoms we cherish.  Henry Adams arrived at a new theory of history through the grammatical, i.e., symbolic nature of Mary.  Figures such as Dickenson, Woolf and Vendler have imagined the world anew through such arts. And K. Burk and McLuhan developed theories of rhetoric, knowledge, and media which have reinvigorated the idea that the populace can use intellectual tools, made available to them through these arts, to appreciate and understand what seem to be esoteric developments in the academy or removed “technical” developments of media.

Project Participants and Description

“Rejuvenating and Reinventing the Liberal Arts” is a curriculum development and pedagogical project. Teams of two faculty from one institution will be preferred, but single individuals from one institution will be admitted to the seminar.   The application will ask applicants to have the permission and signature of a senior academic official to develop a course prototype, ultimately to be offered as a required or widely-taken course, and will teach at least one section of that course using texts of the instructor’s choice out of the trivium – ancient to modern.  As part of the seminar, accepted applicants will come with ideas to be shared with seminar members about their prospective course(s).   Team members and individuals will develop course prototypes to be offered as required or widely taken courses within their institutions.

The seminar will run for two weeks between July 8 and 19 at Carthage College (between Chicago and Milwaukee), with arrivals July 7 and departures (usually) on July 20.  Participants will room and board on campus and have access to college facilities.

ACTC’s Liberal Arts Institute brings to this project two eminent seminar leaders: D. Ben DeSmidt, Associate Professor of Classics and Great Ideas at Carthage College, is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Columbia University.  Joshua Parens, Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the Braniff Graduate School of the Liberal Arts at the University of Dallas is a graduate of St. John’s College and the University of Chicago

Kathleen Burk, Executive Director of ACTC, and J. Scott Lee, Project Developer and Organizer, will observe the deliberations of the seminars.

Project Aims, Components, Application Requirements

  1. Aims:
    • to cultivate the use of core texts of the arts of the trivium in undergraduate liberal education;
    • to showcase the teaching of these texts in a discussion-based setting;
    • using the arts and texts of the trivium, to plan and develop core text courses by participants for implementation in their home institutions.
  2. International Competition: The Application Packet invites institutions from around the world to submit proposals for participation in this project.  The potential impact of proposed courses on curriculum, faculty, and students will be a primary factor in the selection of participating institutions.  As part of the application, an appropriate administrator (e.g., Provost, Dean, or Director of General Education) must indicate institutional support for implementing the teaching of the proto-type course(s) developed by the seminar participants.
  3. Institutional Team or Single Applicants: Project administrators will prefer teams of faculty members (2 per institution), but will accept and welcome single individuals from institutions.  Faculty accepted to the seminar will receive a modest stipend.
  4. The “Reinventing and Rejuvenating” Summer Seminar: One team member of each participating institution will attend the seminar section taught by Desmidt, while the other will attend the section taught by Parens.  Single individuals will be evenly balanced between sections and will be encouraged to “pair” with another individual in a different section.  In this way, participants will be exposed to different approaches to the same texts over the course of the two weeks.  Morning and afternoon sessions will be conducted each day.  Common meals and informal gatherings will be part of the daily schedule.
  5. Dissemination and Assessment: Participating institutions are expected to provide (at least) two faculty fora on campus so that participants in the seminar (a) can report on the seminar in the fall semester and (b) report again to faculty on their experience teaching the core text course they developed or redesigned in connection with the seminar.  Participating institutions will be encouraged to develop a website about the course(s) resulting from the project.

ACTC will publish edited reports by course developers on its website.  Project participants are invited to produce papers for the ACTC Annual Conference incorporating their experience of teaching core texts in their prototype courses.  These papers are eligible for publication in ACTC’s annual proceedings.

ACTC has piloted a “Qualitative Narrative Assessment” (ed. Burk) project focused on student learning through core text curricula.  It will make available at the time of the “Rejuvenating and Reinventing” seminar the hard-copy publication or the manuscript chapters of the Qualitative Narrative Assessment project.

The deadline for applications was January 31, 2019,

either postmarked and mailed to ACTC’s Liberal Arts Institute, or (preferred) filed through ACTC’s website.

There is a direct cost-share provision required of participating institutions, specified in the Application Packet, representing less than 2% of the direct costs of the project.     The Application, within the Application Packet, is in PDF format.  It should be filled out and, then, sent via email to and and  Or, mailed applications should be addressed to Kathleen Burk, ACTC Liberal Arts Institute, “Reinventing and Rejuvenating the Liberal Arts Project,” 3900 Teleport Blvd #142407, Irving, TX 75014.

Decisions on participants will be made by February 28, 2019.  Notifications will be sent March 5 with acceptances due March 12.  Participating institutions will also be announced at the ACTC annual conference, April 11-14 in Santa Fe.

Register for the ACTC Annual Conference

At least one member of each participating team or participating individuals will be expected to attend the 2019 ACTC conference to take part in a pre-seminar workshop with project leaders.


J. Scott Lee
Project Developer and Organizer

D. Ben DeSmidt, Carthage College
Joshua Parens, University of Dallas
Seminar Leaders

Kathleen Burk
Executive Director, ACTC