applied medievalism (1)

fhis profile

This idea started as a somewhat whimsical Unique Selling Point when composing my application materials for my current job. Here is that original 2012 version:

“applied medievalism”: commentary, literary debates, reading and rereading, and the “translation” of Medieval literary practice to modern pedagogical applications.

Of the practical examples that accompanied that application, I’ll start here with one from a beginners’ French language class and one from a more advanced French literature course.


I will often teach grammar using novel examples, adapting the basic techniques of improvisational comedy. The audience provides the building-blocks; I make a selection from them (this may involve audience participation in voting, including an excuse to refresh pertinent vocabulary). Examples will be unique, specific to every class, and makes this material their own. We then build a story with and around the building-blocks, filling in the gaps between statement-examples. A simple example follows below.

The technique deploys story-telling and humour, so as to enable students to construct their own cognitive “hooks” for remembering material, via a conceptual framework incorporating content and context, and anchored in the course’s meta-narrative: the “story” of the course’s teaching, from week to week, with a narrative arc that ends with threads being pulled together at its ending.

Context: the more the merrier; if none has been provided, it can always be made. Giving the lie to the idea that grammar is anything but interesting; it is only as interesting as one makes it…


How to distinguish the reflexive pronoun from the direct object pronoun.


Writing the bones of a movie script.

The whole class was asked to shout out names of suitable candidates for the lead roles in a new movie script. The results: two actors known for a substantial body of work in light romantic comedies. A dated example from an early 21st century Princeton class:

  1. Jennifer Aniston aime Matthew McConaughey → elle l’aime
  2. Matthew McConaughey aime Matthew McConaughey → il s’aime
  3. Le chien de Matthew aime le chien de Jennifer → il l’aime
    [et puis… éventuellement…]
  4. Matthew aime le chien de Jennifer → il l’aime
    [ensuite : un malentendu dramatique ]
  5. Matthew aime Jennifer → il l’aime
    [ambiguïté, malentendus de deux côtés, donc problème !]
  6. Matthew aime Jennifer et son chien → il les aime
    [et donc Jennifer change d’avis, à cause de son—propre—chien]
  7. Jennifer et son chien aiment Matthew et son chien → ils les aiment
  8. Jennifer aime Matthew et Matthew aime Jennifer → ils s’aiment
    [… et aussi, parce que les chiens ont eux aussi le droit à la vie privée … ]
    Le chien de Matthew aime le chien de Jennifer
  • le chien de Jennifer aime le chien de Matthew → ils s’aiment


The idea is not my own invention: besides the classic improv base, I drew on Medieval tactics depoyed in grammar, rhetoric, and/or poetics treatises for finding unique examples to illustrate grammatical points.

These Medieval resources (more specifically, those I have worked with—there are many more, for other languages, too!) are pertinent for three reasons:

  1. They were used specifically for second- or third-language learning; mainly in Latin, but also Occitan.
  2. In both languages’ cases, this was to shape good writers in the target language: in the case of Occitan, the 13th-c. “grammar treatises” also act in part as instruction manuals for the composition of poetry, be that in the target language (treated as the poetic language) or in another one. More and better reading is connected to better writing (and to better reading, thinking, and critical writing); more and better writing connects to better reading; reading and writing are bound together, in convergence and confluence and as a continuum; as are the critical and the creative, the twin pillars of innovation.

A key idea in classic-period Occitan poetry and in the poetics of these treatises is the “finding” and “making” of composition (trobar, “trouver”—from which “troubadour” and “trouvère”; and the Old Scots makars). This is a creative exercise, an exercise in creative writing, and can be even at a very elementary stage.

  1. Finding such unique examples and connecting them together is one of the most important mnemonic tools, tried and tested by students and scholars for around a thousand years, as a way to “draw” their own individual memory-maps, from which they make up their own individual mnemonic devices. This is effectively the contrary motion to modern practice, such as learning DR & MRS VANDERTRAMP off by heart so as to (pseudo-)know which verbs use être as their auxiliary in compound tenses.

See further, for good overviews:

Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge U P, 2008)

Mary Carruthers & Jan Ziolkowski, The Craft of Medieval Memory: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (U Pennsylvania P, 2003)

Ernst Robert Curtius transl. Willard R. Trask, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton U P, 1953 ren. 1983, current ed. 1991)


  1. working in pairs: transformation with other movie stars and darker plots
  2. another option (not done with this class, but with a different one at Princeton): the rearrangement of characters and plot elements, in a game of the cadavre exquis
    3. pairs join together into groups of eight, exchanging “scripts” and transforming them for different persons, so as to work on the appropriate pronouns
  3. (with a different class) return to the activity when working on the past tense, for practice with the correct placing of pronouns in relation to verbs in the past perfect and in infinitive constructions; adding in other elements now known (new verbs, additional adverbs, further material content)
  4. (with a different class) another return to the activity—recycling material to reinforce it—at the end of term: mixing in grammatical and lexical elements from the whole course, expanding the movie script, in a game: the challenge being to bring in material from every single chapter of the textbook being revised for the final examination.

Similar continuation and revision exercises can be used to punctuate the course, all of them woven together at the end of the course in review-sessions. Besides bringing together course materials into a unified whole (admittedly, a textbook with an overarching plot would help here too), the exercises provide light relief from the textbook’s (often unimaginative) subject-matter.

Including the use of parody and pastiche as a form of commentary to empower students in their learning, through exercising their critical muscles. I’ll often start off a class not with the answers to exercises on the previous day’s materials, nor with asking which ones were hard/impossible: but with commentary on the exercises: what was the point of them, where were the elephant-traps, what would you (the students) have changed to make them even trickier and meaner.



All materials (with hyperlinks) are at


  • Un commentaire (explication de texte et analyse textuelle, commentary) #1, en deux versions, faite à la maison = 20%
  • Un examen de mi-semestre: une dissertation littéraire (essay) #1, pendant l’heure du cours = 20%
  • Commentaire #2, en deux versions, à la maison = 20%
  • (facultatif–optional) Dissertation #2: si vous choisissez de faire et de rendre ce deuxième travail, sa note peut remplacer une des notes des deux autres devoirs faits à la maison. Si vous faites les trois devoirs, votre note pour cette partie du cours (40% pour deux travaux à la maison) sera basée sur les deux notes les plus hautes.
  • Un examen final (en décembre: date à venir): deux heures et demi, un commentaire et une dissertation = 40%
  • Le travail suivant n’est pas noté: venez au cours, en ayant bien préparé le matériel à l’avance. Cela vous rendra le cours plus agréable, réduira la peine des révisions au minimum, et votre vie sera plus tranquille et plus belle. = 0%

Voir ci-dessous pour une description en détail des travaux à faire
Voir aussi: la version moins élaborée en PDF


Travail à la maison: les 2 meilleures notes (sur 3): commentaires #1 & 2, dissertation #2 40%
Examen de mi-semestre (dissertation #1) 20%
Examen final (1 commentaire + 1 dissertation) 40%


mardi 27 septembre:
➛ travail à la maison: explication de texte (commentaire) 1 v. 1
SUJET: Pierre de Ronsard, “Comme on voit sur la branche…”

jeudi 6 octobre:
➛ en classe: examen de mi-semestre: dissertation
SUJET:  (poésie lyrique: l’amour, la perte, le regret; l’expression de l’identité poétique)

mardi 11 octobre:
➛ travail à la maison: commentaire 1 v. 2
deuxième version relue, revue, corrigée

mardi 1 novembre:
➛ travail à la maison: commentaire 2 v. 1: NB: format: DES NOTES, des plans, des projets, un brouillon, des commentaires,… –ce n’est pas un travail fini.
SUJET: Montaigne, “Des Cannibales”:  un extrait à commenter (choix de deux)

mardi 22 novembre:
➛ travail à la maison: commentaire 2 v. 2

mardi 29 novembre:
➛travail à la maison: dissertation 2 (facultatif)
SUJET:  Molière, Le Malade imaginaire (un seul sujet)

lundi 12 décembre, 15h30 – 18h00:
➛ examen final: commentaire + dissertation
SUJETS: (examen)



  • mais à distinguer de la CITATION (du texte), qui est permise, vivement encouragée, voir même requise ; citez aussi les ouvrages auxquelles vous faites référence: édition en ligne, dictionnaire, etc.
  • question surtout de droits d’auteur, de responsabilité littéraire, et de politesse vs. le vol


  • Le commentaire et la dissertation :
  • Longueur :
    Travail no. 1 (Ronsard), 1e version: environ 1000 mots, 1200 maximum;
    Travail no. 1, 2e version: 1200-1300 mots, 1500 maximum
    Travail no. 2 (Montaigne), 1e version: environ 800 mots, 1000 mots maximum
    Travail no. 2, 2e version: environ 1200 mots, 1500 maximum
    Travail no. 3–facultatif–(Molière):  environ 1200 mots, 1500 maximum
    Examen de mi-semestre = 1h
    Examen final = 2h30
  • Sujet (voir plus haut): une citation, un poème, un passage, ou une strophe – maximum une demi-page de texte – tiré d’un des livres du cours
  • En français


  • soumission électronique: par mél ou par clé USB
  • fichier : du type .doc, .docx, .odt, .rtf
  • identification : nom de l’auteur – cours – titre du travail – date
  • interligne : 1.5 ou double
  • police de caractères : lisible (Arial, Euphemia, Geneva, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Verdana / Book, Bookman, Gentium, Georgia, Lucida, Palatino, Times / etc…). PAS de polices du genre Comic Sans ou Handwriting SVP !
  • taille de police lisible: 10, 11, ou 12


  • comme c’est un cours de littérature, la grande partie de la note vient du contenu et de la structure (bon choix d’exemples, pertinence, lecture intelligente, raisonnement, argumentation solide, conclusions acceptables).
  • la langue joue cependant un rôle, surtout en ce qui concerne le style et l’expression (et la bonne communication du contenu et de la structure)
  • Comment l’analyse critique est-elle notée ? & les critères du Département (FHIS, UBC)
  • la première version (pour les deux commentaires) ne reçoit pas de note, juste des commentaires; vous recevrez seulement une note pour la version finale

Pendant le cours–surtout pendant le cours du jeudi–on travaillera sur le “pré-texte” qui précède l’écriture du travail à remettre. On discutera les mots, les phrases, et les passages qui vous sautent à l’œil, vos arguments pour ou contre la sélection d’un tel, vos délibérations … Commencez déjà à construire votre propre dossier-portfolio personnel, individuel, subjectif de notes et d’ébauches; une sorte de journal de bord :

  • racontez et débattez ce que vous chercher dans un passage à commenter – les critères qui, selon vous, feront un bon sujet de commentaire
  • collectionnez des notes, des brouillons, des brins de phrase, des pensées et des réflexions, des plans, des titres, de jeux de mots … tout ce qui vous vient à l’esprit (et qui est pertinent), tous ces débuts d’écriture, ces “essais à l’essai”
  • pas forcément en phrases et paragraphes complets, bien sûr – comme tout cela dépend de votre procédé personnel de composition

Vous pouvez aussi venir m’en parler (c’est à dire: de l’explication et de la dissertation elles-mêmes, mais aussi de votre portfolio, et de l’écriture en général) pendant les heures de bureau habituelles: le mercredi, entre 9h00 et midi (Buchanan Tower 728).


The last two examples are from two courses on Medieval literature. Both were about commentary and criticism, and included these forms in assigned work.

They also had continuous online commentary, which then built into a portfolio of a student’s best writing (and questioning and thinking). These courses and other subsequent Medieval Studies ones I’ve taught here all had a final project—not necessarily a “traditional” (modern) essay or research paper—the idea behind which was the Medieval masterpiece, worked on over time, a translation of aquired knowledge and techniques put into applied practice to craft a new, individual, original work. If such a coirse has a final exam, one of the questions is on that final project and how it relates to and translates (broad / full sense) the course’s topic as an adaptation, expansion, continuation, etc.; like Medieval romance.

I also usually have a “festive fair of learning” in the last class, in which students present their work in progress to one another. It’s a variation on poster presentations. It’s fun, and a last opportunity for peer-to-peer interactive commentary (commenting on projects being the last commentating work of the course) and changes before the final work is submitted. Students vote on each others’ work, and their vote is part of its mark.


Theme: “CRITICISM” with practical emphasis on (criticism, obviously, and) commentary.


Criticism pervades pre-modern European literature: across a range of kinds of writing, high and low, scholarly and popular, serious and light-hearted—even scathingly satirical. From a long continuing tradition of exegesis and commentary, through didactic works, to incorporation within works such as the Roman de la Rose and “quarrels” about and around them, we will see a subversive side to questioning and debate. It explores themes of social and religious critique, attacks hypocrisy and corruption, and develops ideas of privacy and identity, freedom of conscience and expression, and the figure of the public intellectual.

In this course we will explore various aspects of later Medieval literature through the theme of criticism, as expressed in a number of texts written in the Continental vernaculars and in Latin, and having an influence throughout Europe. While our principal focus will be the study of literary works, we will also explore the historical landscape in which these landmarks are situated; the cultural background against which their dramatic actions are staged; and their relationship to an integrated creative and intellectual environment–including visual and plastic arts, music, ideas, and the sciences.


  • Blogging portfolio:
    – weekly course blog entries, in the form of commentary (best 10, your own selection)
  • Midterm paper:
    – a close-reading critical commentary (4-5 pages long) on one passage from one of the texts read in class thus far this term. There will be a choice of passages.
  • Final research paper:
    – on a topic relating to commentary and criticism
    – comprising an independent research element (primary and/or secondary sources)
    – and based on your choice of 14th-16th c. European literary material (in consultation with O’Brien): as this is a fairly short paper, you will probably be working on/with one single text. The topic and parameters have been left open to permit flexibility, to suit individual students’ interests and inclinations.
  • Final examination (2.5 hours):
    –  (20 min) identification of short excerpts from the course’s set readings
    –  (40 min) short commentary on one of these extracts (your choice, of those provided)
    – (1.5 hours) comparative essay based on a combination of the course readings (at least one thereof) and your final research paper
    – You MAY bring the course texts with you to the exam, including any notes/sticky notes that you’ve added: but no other materials (course notes, dictionaries, reference works, electronic devices)

Weekly advance preparation and passages for close reading will be posted on this present UBC Blogs site in advance of each class, as will be assignments. Outlines for each class will appear after the event.


(There is a version of these materials on this present blog, kept updated here.)


IV. RMST 221

Theme for the third and last time I taught this: “INTRIGUE


RMST 221: LITERATURES AND CULTURES OF THE ROMANCE WORLD I: MEDIEVAL TO EARLY MODERN is an introduction to the main themes that shaped the Western part of Europe as its different national identities emerged in the Mediterranean sphere.

“INTRIGUE”: 2011-12, winter term 2 (January-April 2012)

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 6.29.41 PM

François Schuiten


Conspiracy, plots and plotting, manoeuvrings and machinations, gossip and rumour, tale-telling and the telling of tales.

Our central theme brings together ideas familiar to the 21st-century reader, viewed through the lens of some of the finest and most intriguing pre-Modern texts, originally written in France, Italy, and Spain in the 12th to 17th centuries; texts that are also an important influence on later European and world literatures, and that span a range of forms: short stories and their collection, romance, the treatise and other didactic works, parody, the picaresque.

Allied topics of crime, mystery, and the playing of games open up further issues of writing, rewriting, reading, and commentary: this course will involve elements of literary detection.


  • Portfolio of weekly course blog entries, responses to readings, and comments (best 10)
  • Short quizzes: questions based on course blog entries (best 5, out of 6)
  • Midterm examination (in-class, 45 minutes): critical essay on one text
    NB: You MAY bring the course texts with you to the exam, including any notes/sticky notes that you’ve added: but no other materials (course notes, dictionaries, reference works, electronic devices)
  • Final project and poster-session (groups of 2-3)
  • Final examination (2.5 hours):
    1 question on your project (25% of exam mark)
    + 1 comparative essay on at least two texts (75% of exam mark)
    NB: You MAY bring the course texts with you to the exam, including any notes/sticky notes that you’ve added: but no other materials (course notes, dictionaries, reference works, electronic devices)

Weekly advance preparation and passages for close reading will be posted on this present UBC Blogs site in advance of each class, as will be assignments: in the menu above. Outlines for each class will appear after the event.


Continuation and commentary …

From “about the blogueuse,” updated from time to time and most recently in 2018, which also echoes faculty profile > research from 2017:


From the 2014 version of what “applied medievalism” might be, via my old faculty profile:


  • French language, literature, and culture
  • Medieval and Early Modern literature and culture
  • “Applied Medievalism”:
    • the integration of teaching and research in/as learning: translatio, translation, comparative literature, and cultural studies; cultural literacy and literary culture.
    • teaching literature and reading: using multiple and mixed (including digital) technologies in teaching, learning, reading and other literary activities, and research; reading, reception, and refashioning; commentary and criticism.
    • practical applications and theoretical implications: how teaching literature helps to think about literature itself, in its broad sense and broader context; pre- and post-modern textualities and hypertextualities; feminism, gynarchism, hybridity, migrancy, cosmopolitanism, and tolerance.

That took for fecking ever to put together, and I’m not sure it’s right. Such is the reward of maintaining a healthily sceptical disposition. To the descriptions above I would add now (2018):

  • the integration of reading and writing as one literary whole
  • a move from pedagogy—infantilising, insulting, instrumentalising, part of a capitalist commodification of education and reification of people turned into an unthinking end product—to ANDRAGOGY
  • related: a move from teacher-centred (patriarchal, colonialist, the false freedom of imperialism) and learner-centred (capitalist, neoliberal, the false freedom of free market economics) to LEARNING-CENTRED LEARNING
  • the medievalism of what distinguishes the “arts” and “humanities” in a university, the point of a university degree, and the purpose of higher education:
    —the art of questioning,
    —an “objective” of understanding,
    —and an “outcome” of lifelong learning that aims towards wisdom (above and beyond—and the deeper philological sense and deep truth that lies under and before and inside—phrases like “leadership training” and “the creation of critical thought leaders”)

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