Review of Week 1: January 11, 13 (by Dr. Seaman)
I’m offering the Weekly Review for Week 1, in part because there’s little to review and in part to offer a model for your future reviews. Bear in mind that those will have quite a bit more to cover, since the first half of the first week was introductory and committed to discussing course requirements rather than course content.
This week we got our grounding for the semester to come by, on day 1, going over the class policies and schedule and briefly getting to know one another, especially through the first blog posts. I gave a brief introduction to some key concerns for the course: cultural studies (whose object of study is cultural practices and whose influence has been to dissolve the line between high and low culture and open up new areas of investigation), late manuscript culture, the gentry (filling in the space between nobility and commoner-laborers), and–very, very briefly–the traditionally low status of the fifteenth century within the world of medieval studies. We quickly ended the class with a Middle English exercise, looking at the similarities that exist between it and Modern English and the main areas of confusion for us.
Thursday we started our discussions in earnest, beginning to “get a feel for the time” by reading Mortimer’s introduction and first chapter on “The Landscape” alongside Daniel Kline’s introduction to the book The Medieval Literature Handbook, where he traces recent developments within medieval studies. We discussed at some length Kline’s perhaps unexpected appreciation of modern (popular) manifestations of the medieval (the study of which is known as medievalism studies) and the simultaneous (if seemingly contradictory) impulses in the modern West to see its medieval past as both a time of darkness we have happily overcome and as a time of harmony and cohesion that we might envy. We discussed, too, the ethical demands our position in relation to the medieval past might place on us as we study it. We discussed as well your impressions of Mortimer’s introduction and first chapter, which were largely favorable. We considered the ways his and Kline’s projects seem perhaps to contradict one another. I would like to talk further on Tuesday about Mortimer’s aims, as he lays them out in his introduction–something we could, I think, pursue productively in conversation with Kline’s pushing us to consider our ethical position.
Introduction to Mortimer; material from Eco in Kline; Josh’s noting the parallels and contradictions between Kline’s and Mortimer’s approaches to the medieval past. [In the future the passages we discuss in class, and any especially useful observations or questions from students in class, should be noted here.]
Preview of Week 2:
On Tuesday, we will continue with our discussion of Kline’s chapter on contemporary medieval studies, particularly in relation to the fifteenth century, the ways the canon has expanded, andd the influences of contemporary theory. We will add to this–in an attempt to “get a feel for the time”–with Brian Gastle’s chapter (from the same book) on medieval history, especially how it might relate to how we read medieval literature, supplemented by our ongoing reading of Mortimer’s popular history, this time on “The People.” In Gastle’s chapter, we will pay attention to the key historical “moments” he draws our attention to, and the effects he suggests these have on literature (and vice versa). I hope you’ll note the events and concerns that surprise you, that are unfamiliar from your previous exposure to medieval history. Consider, too, Gastle’s conclusion: does it strike you as possibly undercutting much of what he’s been saying throughout the chapter?
Thursday we will–if Amazon comes through with the weather-delayed delivery of the book by Chris Barker, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice, from which you’ll be reading a chapter–turn our attention away from the medieval past itself to the application of cultural studies to medieval literature and culture. I co-edit a new academic journal, postmedieval, whose subtitle is a journal of medieval cultural studies; similarly, in 2007 I co-edited a collection of essays with the title Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages. Clearly, this is an approach that I find particularly valuable to our encounter with the medieval past. As you read this material, consider how an approach fueled by very modern concerns such as advertising, media studies, postcolonial studies may be suitable to an apparently very distant object of study.
We will also read an interview with Caroline Walker Bynum, a religious studies historian whose feminist approaches to medieval culture have had a huge influence on medieval studies at large. (Naomi, you will have read this before, so I’ll expect particularly informed input from you…) This interview and Barker’s introduction should give us much to consider, in terms of our theoretical orientation to the material under discussion this semester. This perhaps extreme self-consciousness abouthow we’re doing what we’re doing will, I trust, pay off (and feel less artificial) in the weeks to come.
On both days we will continue discussing your responses to the Middle English Exercises you are assigned to prepare before class (including Exercise 2 from last Thursday).