The Twelve Things Project

In 1987, the literary critic and educational theorist E. D. Hirsch published Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, which explained the ideas behind Hirsch’s “Core Knowledge” movement. 

We’d like the NYUAD community to help create a version of “cultural literacy” for twenty-first century global citizens by participating in the “Twelve Things Project.”

At the end of each month during the 2019-20 academic year, Electra Street will publish lists of twelve important cultural items. Readers who are in Abu Dhabi are invited to attend a discussion session held in the NYUAD Art Gallery’s Reading Room on the following Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. These sessions will feature brief introductions by three or four participants who have submitted lists, followed by a general conversation.

Whether you’re in Abu Dhabi or not, we invite you to contribute a list.

Our first list is “novels that everyone should read.” You might think of your prospective list as the basis for the syllabus of a course that you’d like to take or teach. (We arrive at the number twelve by taking the number of weeks in an NYUAD term — 14 — and subtracting two for introductory and concluding sessions and exams.) 

We’re not asking for a “desert island” list: these aren’t meant to be your 12 greatest novels of all time, merely a set of 12 books that you think every global citizen would profit from reading.

If you’d like to contribute a list to the novel discussion, you can fill out this form. Lists that are submitted before Sunday, September 29 at noon GST will be published on the Electra Street website before the discussion. Those received after will be considered for follow-up posts and will be included in the database of cultural items that we are building. The submission form will remain available throughout the year so that readers can keeping adding to the database.

The following lists are planned for the rest of the academic year, one for each of the disciplines in the NYUAD Arts and Humanities Division.

October: Twelve Films Everyone Should See

November: Twelve Pieces of Music Everyone Should Hear

January: Twelve Works of Art that Everyone Should Experience

February: Twelve Dramatic Works Everyone Should Encounter

March: Twelve Historical Events Everyone Should Know

April: Twelve Philosophical Texts Everyone Should Know

Submission forms for those lists will be available soon.

Next year we’ll tackle poetry, plus lists related to the programs in Anthropology, Arab Crossroads Studies, Interactive Media and Technology, and Legal Studies.

The project is meant to be a work-in-progress, a crowd-sourced foundation for a future reference work of global cultural literarcy. We’ll be asking participants along the way to help us conceptualize that reference work and to think about interesting things to do with the information we’ve amassed. So stay tuned.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact us at