III. A MEDIEVALIST TEACHING EXPERIMENT
(Continuing from part 1. Long. This is what I’ve been working on from September through December.)
The rest of this talk was about a practical experiment in medievalist teaching last term. MDVL301a was a third-year undergraduate course in Medieval Studies, on 5th-14th c. European literature. The image above was at its beginning and end and visually centred the course. Further investigation of the image—reading, research, contextualising—sets up some key questions and critical comments about education (higher / advanced and otherwise). The image is from the 12th-century Hortus deliciarum by Herrad of Landsberg: an encyclopaedic work containing and about knowledge, for educational purposes, written by a scholar-teacher with others (including students) as a collaborative work, in an institution of advanced learning founded in the 7th century. Not a university. Not a university academic. By people who are excluded from the medieval university, yet are persons of privilege and high rank. And yet: part of the same world of learning, composed of people and networks devoting their lives to learning; a world that is also one of lifelong learning.
The course combined three principal elements:
(1) From the 5th-century start, delimitation, confine, bounds…
A theme: THE LIBERAL ARTS
- Through a literary work: DE NUPTIIS PHILOLOGIAE ET MERCURII
- What are the liberal arts?
- What is a liberal arts education at a university?
- What is a university?
- What are these things, what’s their point, what do they mean?
- What can the medieval liberal arts tell us about its present-day relative, and how might higher education in the present day learn from its medieval cousin?
(2) From the 14th-century end of the parameters, borders again…
A literary work, at the centre of the course: LE ROMAN DE LA ROSE
- that looked back to the 5th century (and before, and all over Europe)
- and forward to the 14th century (and into the 15th, and the first recorded debate about vernacular literature in Europe; and indeed further beyond the usual limits of the medieval)
(3) Bridging the 5th- and 14th-century “ends,” an overarching structure…
A form: THE ROSE
A mode: ALLEGORY
- a course that was shaped something like its material
- circular and spiral shapes, wheels, and globes
- serving as a gateway (the circular Stargate, the Chinese and Bermudan Moongate) into an other world and other ways of thinking and being:
- non-linearity, rose-structures, in movement, with multiple points of view, multiplicity and polyphony and polysemy, allegory, and satire
- seeing and thinking imaginatively, metaphorically, poetically
- and a conjunction of creativity and criticism that can enable people to stand, defend, hope, and survive against hypocrisy and whatever else Life and Fortune send our way