Course is free and open to anyone with an Internet connection
Friday, January 10, 2014

The University of Iowa’s first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, is open for enrollment. The six-week course, which runs Feb. 17 through March 29 and is organized by the UI International Writing Program (IWP), offers participants everywhere the opportunity to read, consider, and discuss Whitman’s epic poem through video lectures, live breakout sessions, and moderated online discussions.

The course is free and open to anyone with an Internet connection. To enroll, visit:

Ed Folsom

Every Atom will be co-taught by Whitman scholar Ed Folsom and International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill. Folsom is the Roy J. Carver Professor of English at the University of Iowa, co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive, and editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. Merrill is the author of six collections of poetry and a member of the National Council on the Humanities. His work has been translated into 25 languages, and he has undertaken cultural diplomacy missions to more than 40 countries for the U.S. Department of State.

christopher merrill portrait
Christopher Merrill

“Everyone has a personal reason to read Song of Myself,” says Folsom, explaining Whitman’s wide appeal. “You may have thought: Gee, I’d like to, it’s a little daunting, it’s long—52 sections—but it’s an exhilarating ride.”

“We welcome all participants, from those unfamiliar with American poetry to those looking to rediscover this modern classic,” says Susannah Shive, IWP distance learning coordinator. “Through a series of intimate, accessible video conversations, the course offers a guided exploration through the workings of Song of Myself.”

The resources of the Walt Whitman Archive and the Whitman Web, a gallery of translations, recordings, and commentaries (including the first-ever translation of Song of Myself into Persian), will help participants navigate the poem.

How is the course structured? Each week, two video sessions will be posted, each organized around a central theme. After each session, Folsom and Merrill will pose a question to participants, encouraging them to form their own answers and then test out these answers in the MOOC’s discussion forum. Folsom, Merrill, and the course’s teaching assistants will guide discussion and answer questions in the forum. At the end of the week, the teaching assistants will hold a live breakout session to break down the week’s themes and explore popular topics of discussion.

The video sessions’ themes include “Origins,” “Structure,” “Main Characters,” “Science,” and “Democracy.”

The course title comes from a line in the first section of the poem:

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

A second MOOC, How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment, also organized by the UI’s International Writing Program, will open this summer. These courses are funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the University of Iowa, and hosted by the Virtual Writing University with the goal of encouraging global academic and creative exchange.

Founded in 1967, the IWP was the first international writers' residency at a university, and it remains unique in world literature. Since 1967, more than 1,400 writers from more than 140 countries have been in residence at the UI. The IWP is part of the UI Graduate College.