Sponsored by the New Chaucer Society, New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy and Profession offers essays, news, and resources for teachers and scholars of Geoffrey Chaucer and his age. Published twice per year, this peer-reviewed, open-access journal is dedicated to our work inside both the classroom and the institution, as well as to our outward-facing work contributing to the public discourse. In these ways, the journal seeks to advance a broad and embracing conception of medieval literary studies.
Volume 2, Issue 2, 2021
This issue brings together articles and essays that discuss, from different vantage points, the relevance of teaching medieval literature at a time of increasing global challenges and uncertainties. Marcel Elias and Ardis Butterfield, John Lance Griffith, Vanessa Jaeger, and Stacie Vos focus on different teaching and learning contexts by offering concrete suggestions for the classroom. Our special cluster on “Pandemic Experiences” features nine essays that reflect on what it meant (and means) to be teaching and researching amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with contributions by Jonathan Fruoco, Kristine Larsen, David Lavinsky, Katrin Rupp, Kara Crawford, Kathy Cawsey, Suzanne Edwards, as well as Sandy Feinstein and Bryan Wang. In our new rubric “Conversations”, we continue discussions from previous issues: in her essay on the Humanities Lab, Patricia Ingham picks up on Carolyn Dinshaw’s call for experimentation, and Emma Margaret Solberg responds to our issue 2.1 on “#MeToo, Medieval Literature, and Trauma-Informed Pedagogy.”
This essay discusses approaches to and strategies for teaching the “Multicultural Middle Ages” at undergraduate level based on a lecture course that we co-taught online in Fall 2020. We outline a few of our lectures (on “Modern Appropriations of the Crusades: Politics, Myths, and Reality”; “Trade, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange”; and “Multicultural Song”) before presenting some ideas for teaching comparatively across cultures. By way of conclusion, we showcase a selection of our students’ “blog post” responses to the course.
Medieval Studies and Medievalism: Choosing Good Texts for ESL and General Education Students in Taiwan
This essay uses Brian Helgeland’s movie A Knight’s Tale (2001) as an example of modern medievalism and of a good choice for ESL and general studies students. Drawing on experiences from a course on films and television shows about the Middle Ages, taught at a technology university in Taiwan, I explore how this kind of class benefits Taiwanese ESL students, arguing in particular that a medievalism course can help both teachers and students to reflect on: (1) the need students have for some knowledge of medieval culture, which, entangled as it is in contemporary pop culture, they will encounter frequently in the films, TV shows, and video games that they enjoy; and (2) the need to think carefully about which texts to choose for ESL study.
Eating Up the Enemy: Teaching Richard Coer de Lyon and the Misrepresentation of Crusader Ideology in White Nationalist Agendas
American white nationalist groups, such as the Klu Klux Klan, the American Freedom Party, and the American Nazi Party, capitalize on the fantasy of a white, heteronormative medieval Europe in their anti-Islam agendas, misrepresenting both the history of the Crusades and the “Pork-Eating Crusader” image associated with it. Now a product available for purchase at certain online retail shops, the image of a crusader eating “pork” appears in the popular medieval romance Richard Coer de Lyon (RCL) when an ailing King Richard unwittingly eats a Saracen captive instead of the pork he requested. This article examines how working with students to trace the history of this image through RCL gives needed context to the racial and religious identities represented in Crusader texts. When properly contextualized, the episodes of Richard cannibalizing his Saracen enemies demonstrate that the infamous king is a figure for modern audiences to question rather than to emulate. By teaching students that medieval racial and religious identities were in flux, they are better able to see how the modern fantasy of the medieval period is used by white nationalist activists and how to combat their agendas. Such lessons further articulate how certain positions, like race, gender, and religion are constructed over time, and, more importantly, how they continue to be constructed and changed.
Despite the complexity of her written work, Virginia Woolf occasionally sought to “teach” the reader, as Sheila Heti’s new edition of How Should One Read A Book? reveals. Moreover, Woolf was keenly interested in the Middle Ages. This essay uses an unpublished story of Woolf’s to explore new possibilities in the teaching of medieval English literature. A syllabus, outlined at the center of this essay, details assignments that invite students to read and write across genres, disciplines, and time periods, taking up Woolf’s notion of what this author calls the “mystical manuscript,” or the text that comes alive in the mind. Through the fictional diary of Joan Martyn, Woolf explores the limits of the archive when it comes to access and representation. She guides both instructor and student through vivid scenes of public reading and domestic storytelling, suggesting that the keepers of manuscripts are often located far from the locked library.
Cluster: Pandemic Experiences
How does a teacher and scholar deal with a pandemic? I am convinced you might ask fifteen people that question and get fifteen different answers. In this paper, I mention my own experience with COVID19 and how I managed to use the situation to focus on my research, despite tremendous institutional and professional difficulties.
A reflection on the long, long year of 2020 and its impact on one astronomer's astrolabe outreach.
A reflection on the author’s experience with remote teaching and scholarship during the pandemic, and their implications for recent disciplinary formations within medieval studies.
Engaging with plague literature such as Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron during the COVID-19 pandemic arguably enhances our understanding of medieval depictions of the plague. At the same time, medieval descriptions of the pestilence reflect on our current situation. Indeed, reading the Decameron with my MA students in a virtual classroom in the spring of 2021 showed that the human experience of fear and loss in the face of a potentially lethal disease has not fundamentally changed in seven hundred centuries. Furthermore, we all brought our individual experiences with the pandemic to the text, which enabled us to identify with the plague situation of Boccaccio’s time in a way that would not have been possible before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teaching secondary students amid the Covid-19 pandemic and intensified national concern over racial injustice offered an opportunity for reflection about how we frame the past and approaches to curriculum moving forward.
A personal essay about reading Old English laments during a global pandemic.
This essay explores the distinctive value of arts and humanities collaborations in the context of the global COVID pandemic. Between 2019 and 2021, the author (a literary critic) worked with composer Mark Volker, performance ensemble Chatterbird, and visual artist Christine Rogers to write and perform a chamber music based on two medieval body-soul debate poems, "Als I lay in a winteris nyt" and "In a thestri stude I stod." That creative project highlights how the body-soul debate poems resonate with representations of COVID deaths in contemporary popular media, exploring the psychological and social barriers to reckoning with mortality in ways that can transform community for the living.
“From Beast Books to Resurrecting Dinosaurs” is a general education honors course focusing on the description, understanding, and classification of animals over time. It was first co-taught with a chronological structure that began with classical texts and ended with synthetic biology, until COVID- 19 prompted a reconsideration of that structure. This reconsideration, in turn, brought the literature closer to the biology, essentially integrating the approaches of both disciplines—without detriment to either, to the wonder of the molecular biologist and the medievalist.
Matt Clancy writes about how the pandemic shaped his career choices on completing his PhD, and argues that the present challenges facing the profession mean that we should reconsider how we define ourselves as medievalists. He affirms that it is possible to finish a PhD in a pandemic and tentatively begin a career, and that an apparent lack of correspondence between experience as a medievalist and seemingly non-medievalist employment diminishes neither his identity as a medievalist, nor his engagement with the field the enforced change from teaching in person to teaching online is well-suited to the skills medievalists have already developed through teaching Chaucer and other medieval texts, since both present a strange version of the familiar.
This essay assesses recent claims for the special innovations and collaborations of the Humanities Lab in the context of a century long tradition of 'laboratory' work in Chaucer Studies.
This response to “#MeToo, Medieval Literature, and Trauma-Informed Pedagogy” takes up the themes of identification, consciousness raising, and calling out.