Great World Texts
About Great World Texts

About Great World Texts

Launched in 2005 by the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Great World Texts in Wisconsin connects scholars at UW-Madison with high school teachers and students across the state through the shared project of reading and discussing a classic piece of world literature. Drawing from world literature throughout the ages, the program’s selection of texts reflects a capacious understanding of the idea of the “literary classic.” In previous years, faculty, teachers and students have collaborated on texts associated with mid-twentieth-century Colombia, ancient Greece, and contemporary India. The program includes workshops in which participating teachers work with UW faculty members on interpreting and understanding each text, extensive supporting curriculum materials, and an Annual Student Conference in which students from all participating schools come together to share their work and hear from distinguished speakers. Now in its eleventh year, Great World Texts has reached hundreds of students and teachers in dozens of school districts throughout the state of Wisconsin.

Experience the Annual Student Conference! (video)

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in Wisconsin

During the 2017-2018 Great World Texts in Wisconsin program, teachers and students throughout the state will read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Published in 1962, this work of non-fiction surveys how pesticides—and, more broadly, the human species—wreaked havoc on the environment in the decades following World War II, producing widespread pollution and devastation. Tracing the interconnections between the chemical industry, technological progress, and the increasingly “out of kilter” relationship between nature and humankind, Silent Spring took specialist scientific knowledge public, translating it into terms that were accessible to a broad reading audience. Carson popularized modern theories of ecology, demonstrating the ways humans are interconnected with all parts of nature, including birds and insects, trees and soil, atmosphere and groundwater. Though Silent Spring was written in a different historical moment, its message is perhaps more pressing than ever before. As participants in 2017-2018 program read the text, they will consider the historical roots of the environmental crises we face today; the continuities between science writing and poetics that define Carson’s style; the relationship between specialist knowledge and public discourse; and the power of public intellectuals and reading publics as agents of systemic change. Participants may also have the opportunity to read Silent Spring alongside works that take up similar questions from different disciplinary or historical perspectives, including Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, and Ed Roberson’s To See the Earth Before the End of the World.

Thank you to all those new and returning schools participating in this program! If you have questions or are interested in participating in the program in 2018-19, please contact us at

Annual Student Conference Keynote: Sandra Steingraber

Biologist, author, and cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. writes about climate change, ecology, and the links between human health and the environment. Steingraber’s highly acclaimed book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment was the first to bring together data on toxic releases with data from U.S. cancer registries and was adapted for the screen in 2010. Steingraber will meet with high school students from across the state at the program’s Annual Student Conference. She will also deliver a public lecture.

Previous Programs

2016 – William Shakespeare, The Tempest (England: 1611)
2015 – Wu Cheng'en, Journey to the West (China: 1592)
2014 – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions (Switzerland: 1782)
2013 – Orhan Pamuk, Snow (Turkey: 2002)
2012 – Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (India: 1997)
2011 – Sophocles, Antigone (Greece: ca. 441 BC)
2010 – The Arabian Nights (India, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria: ca. 14th century)
2009 – Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (Nigeria: 1959)
2008 – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (Russia: 1880)
2007 – Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (Colombia: 1967)
2006 – Dante Alighieri, Inferno (Italy: ca. 1314)
2005 – Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (Spain: 1605, 1615)


The Great World Texts program brings together a diversity of teachers and students from across the state of Wisconsin: Appleton, Ashwaubenon, Bangor, Brookfield, Campbellsport, Dodgeville, Edgerton, Friendship, Galesville, Hartford, Hazel Green, Janesville, Juneau, Kenosha, Kohler, Lodi, Madison, Mazomanie, Milwaukee, Monona, Monroe, New Berlin, New Glarus, Prairie du Sac, Rhinelander, Richland Center, Rio, Sheboygan, Sun Prairie, Watertown, Waunakee, Waupaca, West Allis, Whitewater, Wilmot. In addition, participating faculty and undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison collaborate with our high school educators and students each year, joining them at our Annual Student Conference.

Support for Great World Texts in Wisconsin

Great World Texts in Wisconsin is made possible by grants from the A.W. Mellon Foundation, the Anonymous Fund, the Evjue Foundation, the Wisconsin Humanities Council, the UW-Madison College of Letters & Science and the Promega Corporation. In addition, the UW-Madison Library supports the purchase of hundreds of copies of each text for use in classrooms, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction lends valuable expertise to the organization of each year’s program.