#Innovation – #MakePhilologyGreatAgain 


Experimental Medievalist Teaching: a talk for @UBC Early Romance Studies Research Cluster about #mdvl301a (part 2 of 2)



(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…

  • 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 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


Experimental Medievalist Teaching: a talk for @UBC Early Romance Studies Research Cluster about #mdvl301a (part 1 of 2)

[Based on notes made before the talk, what I remember of the talk (which cut some bits and expanded others), and notes made afterwards from questions raised and discussion. With thanks to people who came along! This was an open talk for a general audience. The usual caveats apply: There may be typos. Here be dragons.]



On reading, writing, & commentary


The original title of this piece is “Criticism & commentary,” but it’s really about reading and writing as harmoniously-integrated activities within the larger whole that is a literary continuum and polyphonic collective; uniting all participants in a living textual network.

Premises and provisos: It views commentary as one of the core and ancient literary/communicative forms, along with story-telling and translation; with story-telling as the living beating heart of this human trinity of curiosity, criticism, and creativity.

It uses literature in its broad sense to extend to “any object that can be read, seen, interpreted” and reading in the broad / Barthes sense to include perception by any of the senses, with “making sense of” as its purpose, and an interpretation translated into expression via any of the senses.  This piece sees literature as synonymous with communicative expression. Not as one kind of communication, but the other way around:  what passes in other (non-literary) fields as “communication” is a more or less appropriately human, or humanly-appropriate, kind of literature. All writing has a right, duty, and responsibility to be beautiful, imaginative and innovative, and critical and creative. All writing can and should be literature. 

What follows below is the current version, for students who are reading and writing, from MDVL 301A : European Literature of the 5th to the 14th centuries – “The Liberal Arts”Its base was the version used in MDVL 302: European Literature of the 14th to the 16th centuries – “Criticism” (UBC, Faculty of Arts, Medieval Studies Programme, AY 2011-12 Winter session term 2) + a couple of upates (ex. on plagiarism and style guides). It’s one of the oldest pieces on this present blog; its most ancient archaeological layer (writing resources) is from a now-deceased previous site, “The Rose of the Romance” (2003).


“The tree of life”
Gua Tewet, Borneo
(c. 10,000 years ago)


REPOSTING: Silence Is Violence at UBC, from 8 January 2016


Today is a day of memories, commemoration, and remembrance. It is unfortunate that stillness and thought for others was interrupted by thoughts of other others. It is fortunate that humans have minds (and hearts, senses, souls, and spirits; however it is that you think of them/yourself) that are large and complex enough to accommodate more than one memory, to think of more than one person, at any one time. That is not only fortunate but a wonder, and a source of hope.