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Join us for a Semester of Discussion and Discovery

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has funded a semester-long humanities class for veterans and civilians. We will discuss great works of literature, history, philosophy, and art centered around three major conflicts: the Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, and the First World War (WWI). The course--"Democracy and Duty: Activating Service"--will explore what drives the call to military service and consider how we might repurpose that drive into a passion for continuing to serve our communities in civilian life.

Topics (questions): 

  • Why do we fight wars? A historical and philosophical overview focusing on themes of Heroism, Sacrifice, Duty, and Honor.

  • Revolutionary War: What is the idea of the United States of America? What makes our democracy worth fighting for? Is our idea of democracy different from ideas in ancient texts? How do race and slavery complicate this idea?

  • World War I: How did this war change the United States' perspective on its place in the world? How did it change how we talk, write, and create art about war? For example, look at the painting to the right (Horace Pippin), which comes from a site commemorating World War I.  Pippin, one of the Harlem Hellfighters in WWI, was self-taught as an artist. We will look at works like his and read a graphic novel about the Harlem Hellfighters.

The class, sponsored by Clemente Course in the Humanities, is offered in partnership with Virginia Tech, the Roanoke Public Libraries, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VFMA). The class is taught by veterans and those who work with veterans.


We will hold a seminar-style class with expected active discussion and participation. There will be no papers due and no tests. Our goal is to prepare you to be able to read and talk about these works of literature, history, philosophy, and art. We want students to be comfortable taking on the role of discussion leader in their communities. To prepare you, we will teach skills around leading discussions and ask you to give a few short collaborative presentations during the semester. 


Whether you are interested in the class for self-improvement and self-understanding or college credits, you are welcome to build your critical reading, writing, and thinking skills while bolstering your confidence in the classroom. Many students take this course to gain additional knowledge and meet other vets.

Those who complete the course demonstrating college-level work will be eligible for three college credits from Bard College, NY.

COST: Nada. Zip. Zilch. No tuition; all books/texts will be provided to you for free. (Thanks to the NEH, Clemente, and VT for their support! Any college credits earned are provided at no cost to you from Bard College.)

When: Two nights per week (Mondays and Thursdays) for two hours/night (6:30 to 8:30) from 30 January to 4 May 


  • Online via Zoom

Horace Pippin painting: The End of the War - Starting Home

Read what veterans said about spring 22's class: "This program should be offered in other communities, because these programs can give veterans an opportunity to share feelings in a safe environment. It also can give veterans a sense of assurance that they may not be the only ones strugling or having problems adjusting to civilian life." "Yes i regained and remembered what i could do to feel confident again."

To register, complete the online form on Google or download the form, complete it, and email it to  

If you would like more info, please do not hesitate to send questions to

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Look at the picture: Winslow Homer’s “Veteran in a New Field” from 1865. The American Civil War had just ended, and this man used a scythe to cut through his crops. 

His back is to us, and we can’t see his face. How does that help us relate to him?

The horizon (where the land and sky connect) is very high in this painting. What sort of emotional feeling does that give us?

How do we even know the man is a veteran? Not visually — only from the title. But once we know he’s a veteran from the title, does that change how we think about what he’s doing? Wielding a scythe? Cutting down crops? Is this a metaphor? Or is it just about a changing life circumstance?

If you are a veteran who likes thinking about these questions about art and poetry and have more questions of your own, consider joining our class starting January 30, 2023.

Faculty & Partners

Dr. Jack Cheng

I have taught at various colleges in the Boston area, including Harvard, MassArt, UMass Boston, and Framingham State College. I have a profile on

Since 2011, I have served off and on as the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. I’ve also taught art history in the course since its inception in 2001. More about the course can be found on my Clemente Course page.

I’ve done many jobs on archaeological excavations, sometimes simultaneously. I’ve worked at Sardis and Gordion in Turkey, Tell Brak and Tell Ahmar in Syria, and currently am part of the team excavating El Kurru in Sudan. My experiences on digs and traveling in the Middle East often inspire my writing. More about my archaeological experience can be found on my Archaeology page.

Currently, I am a copywriter and project manager for Crackerjack Communications, a small marketing firm in Wellesley, MA with a client base that includes many institutions of higher learning and international corporations.

Dr. Jim Dubinsky, LTC, US Army (ret.)

Assoc. Professor, Virginia Tech

James M. Dubinsky is an associate professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the Department of English at Virginia Tech (VT)


Jim retired from 28 years of service in the U.S. Army and has been instrumental in creating an academic field in Veterans Studies.  He taught at West Point, the U.S. Army Field Artillery School, and for the Command & General Staff College.

Jim has been honored with awards at the college and university levels for teaching, scholarship, and outreach.  


At VT: He was the founding director of the department’s Professional Writing program and the University’s service-learning/civic engagement center (now VT-Engage). He is a past president and a past executive director of the Association for Business Communication (ABC).  


PennyLee Deere


PennyLee Deere is completely retired. She is lead facilitator for a grassroots group she started in 2016 after being discharged abruptly from the VA’s therapy programming: Support Our Troops Committee/Art4Vets 


This organization gives her a reason for getting up in the morning (life-saving, found her purpose). She was in the Woman’s Army Corps (1975), served during the Cold War, went to Desert Storm, Desert Shield (1990/91) retiring after 20 years in 1995. She is a licensed massage therapist (NY, nationwide). She is a creative Learner (has a learning disability) She loves to learn, at the age 65 she received her Health and human Service Degree (BS). She is a huge promoter of many therapies and “the arts” for healing.  She is a veteran for the veteran. She advocates, promotes, collaborates, educates, coordinates with veterans and others. He motto is  “Tell a gram,Telegraph,tel a phone, tell a woman, tell PennyLee  and the world will know” 

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Division of Outreach and Distance Education

VMFA is a state-supported, privately endowed educational institution created for the benefit of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret art, to encourage the study of the arts, and thus to enrich the lives of all.

Our Team.

Below you'll find a short bio for each member of our team; we bring a wealth of military and academic experience to this course.

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"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop."



413 Shanks Hall, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061


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