Welcome to our most diverse issue of The Once and Future Classroom yet! We are excited to announce the addition of a new column, “The Screening Room.” This column features contributors who offer their expertise and ideas about how to use your students’ interest in medieval themes in contemporary fiction and film as a way of ushering them into a quest for the “real” Middle Ages. Our first contributor, David M. Perry, explains how the movie, The Name of the Rose, billed as a murder mystery thriller, actually offers students the opportunity to learn about the history of the medieval monasticism, the historical tensions between Church and State, as well as introducing them to an important debate in the history of ideas: the struggle between faith and reason. Meanwhile, this issue’s Librarian’s Corner bibliography invites us to consider the concept of “medievalism,” the way in which our “dreams” of the Middle Ages, to use Umberto Eco’s words, can tell us about ourselves and our own time. Many students and scholars discovered their interest in things medieval through the mediation of various “medievalisms”: Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, Errol Flyn’s dashing Robin Hood, T.H. White’s young Arthur, or Tolkien’s Riders of Rohan. Victorian medievalism in particular continues to inform our own dreams of the Middle Ages: Pre-Raphaelite paintings provide the inspiration for medieval costumes and movie sets, and Tennyson’s vision of the Arthurian love triangle blends with Malory’s storyline in contemporary retellings of the Arthurian legend. Megan Morris’s bibliography on Victorian Medievalism gives you the opportunity to explore with your students how the Victorians saw and used the Middle Ages: in literature, the visual arts, even architecture.
Because so many scholars, from the Victorian period onwards, have preceded us in the quest to understand the Middle Ages, the attempt to encounter a moment or voice from the distant past unqualified by these earlier interventions, is a great challenge for the medieval historian. How do we come to understand the past on its own terms, in its own language, with its own biases? Laura Wangerin’s wonderful three day lesson plan on the Bayeux Tapestry and the Norman Conquest not only introduces students to an exciting moment in British history, and an important, and very unique, historical document, the Bayeux Tapestry, but also teaches students the importance of working with a “primary” source, a resource that comes to us from directly the time period. Given recent discussions among scholars of the Bayeux Tapestry as a forerunner to the graphic arts that produced the contemporary comic book and graphic novel genres, you may find your students to be surprisingly adept and eager readers of this particular text!
Finally, we are happy to introduce readers of Once and Future Classroom to the work of Sylvie Weil, the author of the Elvina Trilogy, a French series for young adults (reading level, ages 9-12) now translated into English. The ElvinaTrilogy’s eponymous protagonist is based on the actual granddaughter of the revered eleventh-century French Rabbi, Rashi. The historical fiction focuses on the experiences of medieval Jews in France during the time of the Crusades. Our review of the second book in the Elvina Trilogy, Elvina’s Mirror,is a unique collaboration between professional medievalist, Jeffrey J. Cohen, whose recent work has focused on the experiences and representations of medieval Jews, and a member of Weil’s target audience, Alex G. Cohen, a seventh grader at Westland Middle School in Bethesda, Maryland.
As always, we hope you come away inspired and welcome your comments and contributions.
Original Citation: The Once and Future Classroom , Volume VII, Issue 2, Fall 2009
NOTE: Links have been corrected and/or deleted. No editing to the actual texts has been done since their original publication.