Civic Knowledge Project - The mission of the Civic Knowledge Project is to develop and strengthen community connections, helping to overcome the social, economic, and racial divisions among the various knowledge communities on the South Side of Chicago. We believe that the free and reciprocal flow of knowledge is empowering. Working with our many local collaborators, we (1) Provide educational and humanities programming linking the University of Chicago to other knowledge communities surrounding it; (2) Develop institutional policy for the exchange of knowledge among different local knowledge communities; and (3) Serve as an educational and organizational resource for our community.

Poverty, Promise and Possibility - Initially launched as a new program for the 2010-11 academic year, Poverty, Promise, and Possibility promises to become an ongoing cooperative effort by the Civic Knowledge Project and its partners. The aim will be to build on the progress made in this first phase of the program by continuing to bring together University and community expertise in addressing the most pressing social problems confronting us here on the South Side of Chicago. Working with the Office of Civic Engagement, the School of Social Service Administration, the Urban Education Institute, the Graham School of General Studies, and a wide range of community partners, we promise to produce accessible, first-rate and useable knowledge and educational materials that will measurably improve the quality of life for our communities for generations to come and underscore the vital role of the humanities in making life worth living.

Poverty, Promise and Possibility Blog - The Clemente Course in the Humanities®/Odyssey Project is a crucial partner in the Poverty, Promise, and Possibility initiative. The public discussion by Earl Shorris on Poverty and the Humanities, and the continuing education course with that title by Bart Schultz, have generated an intense interest in this model for deploying the humanities in antipoverty efforts. Moreover, working in collaboration with Dovetta McKee and the University’s College Prep program, Shorris, Schultz and representatives from the Illinois Humanities Council, AKArama sorority, and Office of Civic Engagment are actively pursing a plan to adapt the Clemente Course model for disadvantaged local high schools on Chicago’s South Side.

Words Without Borders - translates, publishes, and promotes the finest contemporary international literature. Our publications and programs open doors for readers of English around the world to the multiplicity of viewpoints, richness of experience, and literary perspective on world events offered by writers in other languages. We seek to connect international writers to the general public, to students and educators, and to print and other media and to serve as a primary online location for a global literary conversation.

Student Voices

MA Humanities Slideshow

This is a moving slideshow with audio featuring two students from the MA Humanities Clemente Course.

In the News

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Katie Kowalski
Port Townsend Leader, Mar 14, 2018

“I hate Shakespeare.”

It’s the line every teacher of the Bard has heard at least once, probably more.

Arendt Speser takes that comment as a personal challenge.

Speser is the academic director of the Jefferson Clemente Course in the Humanities, which offers free college-level courses to low-income adults.

This year, the class he is leading will be introduced to “Julius Caesar” through a public reading the class is presenting at The Boiler Room next week.

“I don’t expect everyone to love 'Caesar' by the end of our sessions, but I do hope to encourage a new enthusiasm for the old Bard,” Speser said.

The student readings take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., April 23 and 25 at The Boiler Room, 711 Water St.


Including a Shakespeare play in the Clemente Course is standard; the play can change from year to year.

“It can vary depending on the course theme and instructor preference,” said Speser.

This year, Speser chose “Julius Caesar” to tie into the Royal National Theatre of London performance of that play, which will be screened at The Rose Theatre April 21 and 29.

“I have no doubt in my mind they picked this play because of what it says to our current political climate.”

“‘Caesar,’” Speser said, taps into issues of power, corruption and the tension between tyranny and democracy. “In a more intimate way (it’s also about), what happens when conspiracy destroys relationships between friends and countrymen.”

One scene that will be acted out is a scene between Brutus and Portia.

That scene, Speser said, “speaks in shockingly contemporary tones about our current anxiety about gender and power.”


Port Townsend’s Lisa Wentworth, who said she loves to learn just for the sake of learning, is one of the students participating in the class.

“If we don’t learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it,” she said of the importance of turning back to older texts in modern times.

Turning to classic texts is fundamental to the Clemente Course.

“I highly recommend Clemente,” Wentwort said. “Knowledge is key, and it can open up a whole world for you.”

The community is invited to attend the public readings next week.

“Above all, the play speaks to the dangers of empire and the hazards of a blind patriotism,” said Speser. “It asks the fundamental political question: Is what is good for Rome good for Romans, and vice versa? We see a public trying to exert its political will, while also being manipulated by men in power.”

This, Speser added, is a relevant topic for today.

New York, NY (April 9, 2018)

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) today announced that the Clemente Course in the Humanities is among its 2018 grant recipients, awarded $96,000 to expand its work in the NEH Dialogues on the Experience of War initiative. Projects funded through NEH Dialogues on the Experience of War grants will support humanities-based programs for military veterans and their families.
This is the second consecutive NEH grant Clemente has received to support the Clemente Veterans Initiative (CVI), which was developed in 2014 to provide a meaningful intellectual community to veterans who are struggling to adapt to civilian life. CVI is based on the idea that guided discussion of humanities texts and images can provide veterans with an opportunity to reflect on their military experiences and support their transition to post-military life.
Dialogues will be held in the Spring of 2019 in: 

  • Providence, RI, at the University of Rhode Island
  • Charleston, SC, at Trident Technical College
  • Boston, MA, at Codman Square Health Center

Each dialogue will enroll 15-20 students, the majority of whom will be veterans. Dialogues will meet twice a week for 12 weeks, using diverse texts and images to explore themes such as loyalty, moral injury and reconciliation. The course, including books, child care and transportation assistance, will be offered free of charge to participants. Transferable college credit will be available from Bard College.
“For more than 20 years, we have seen how the humanities helps marginalized people place their stories and life experiences into a broader examination of historical and moral questions,” said Lela Hilton, Clemente’s National Program Director. “In Clemente, we do this in small, classroom communities where conversations begin without judgment, and can then move toward understanding how our stories fit into the larger questions. What does it mean to live a good life, to be a citizen, to be human? We are thrilled to share this work with men and women whose lives have been so deeply impacted by serving in the military. It is a true honor.”
Founded in 1996, the Clemente Course in the Humanities is now offered in 30 sites in the US. It provides free, accredited college courses in the humanities to those facing economic hardship and adverse circumstances. Students are guided by highly experienced college faculty who, using the Socratic method, provide a rigorous education in literature, philosophy, American history, art history, and critical thinking and writing. Clemente was awarded the 2014 National Humanities Medal by President Obama. 
For more information:
NEH Announcement
Dialogues on the Experience of War

Kafi Dixon is the founder of Seeds of Change, an organization that allows individuals to come together to purchase food items collectively from local farms and wholesale distributors.

I never went to high school. I never went to high school. I was homeless; it was just too hard. When I was 16, I got pregnant and had my first daughter, and then when I was 19 I had mysecond daughter. Over the years I was ashamed because I didn’t have an education. I started several small businesses; a bedding shop, a farm stand, anything to get away without having to explain that I don’t have a GED. It was like this dirty little secret I was carrying around.

I really wanted to start a farm, but I needed a business plan to do that. I was paralyzed. I was unable to communicate my ideas for this business in writing. I’m more than capable of running a business, but I lacked confidence to write the plan, and I didn’t have networks of people I could turn to that had skills in writing, research or business planning.

That’s when I found Clemente. Clemente took my natural abilities and shined them so that others could see them. The professors and my fellow students also pushed me to recognize my own strengths. 

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Waldo Aguavivas is a student at Suffolk University.

In my family, other things were always more important than education. My mother had to work three jobs to put food on the table. She couldn’t come home and help me with homework or urge me to go to school. School was uncomfortable for me because I’m a gay Dominican male. I dropped out in 2005 when I was in 11th grade.

When I signed up for Clemente in 2011 I didn’t know what a syllabus was. My writing needed improvement. I struggled but I worked hard to improve, meeting regularly with the writing coach. Clemente made me realize that no question is a dumb question. I saw that others have the same questions I do, so I’m no longer scared to ask. The professors encouraged me to express myself. Through Clemente I learned self - discipline, and gained an understanding of what college is all about.

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Amy Howard is a member of the Port Townsend, WA City Council and is the executive director of the Boiler Room, a community art and social service center.

I thought I was going to be working in dead end jobs forever. Clemente showed me that I could think and that my ideas were valid. Now I encourage my volunteers and staff to take the Clemente Course because I know that it can change lives.

I grew up in a town of 500 people then moved to Seattle after high school. I became addicted to methamphetamines. When I decided to leave that scene, two street kids put me on the ferry and sent me to Port Townsend. I was homeless at the time, but I volunteered at the Boiler Room and that gave me a purpose.

I learned about Clemente when the program director gave a presentation at the Boiler Room. At first I was afraid to even try learning because I was scared that my addiction had ruined my brain, but the academic director made it seem so interesting that I decided to try.

Clemente was amazing. The subject matter was fascinating and the teachers were engaging. Most importantly, I was surrounded by other people who also faced challenging circumstances but were equally engaged, and wanted to learn. It was the catalyst that I needed to change my life.

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