Editor’s Introduction (Spring 2019)

Editor’s Introduction


This issue includes five essays, three for the high school classroom and two for the college classroom. Among the five, three were organized and are introduced here by David Raybin under the rubric, “Teaching Chaucer in the Secondary Schools.” The Once and Future Classroom celebrates high school teachers, such as the ones published here, who remain undaunted by the challenges of teaching medieval topics in their classrooms. As Raybin outlines in his “Introduction” to this section, the lessons included in these essays are demanding as well as inspiring. Many of these teachers’ well-organized lessons and tools can be profitably used by teachers at any level.

Mapping the Global Middle Ages: Diversifying the Classroom with GIS” describes Chelsea Skalak’s approach to teaching the medieval world as one in which race and religion, among other social and political controversies and struggles, are not solely modern concerns, but “in fact, have been taking place across the world for centuries.” Her innovative interdisciplinary seminar, “Mapping the Global Middle Ages,” is designed to “highlight the diverse traditions and encounters that medieval people experienced through travel” so that the “true historical diversity” that existed in the Middle Ages emerges. As part of her course, Skalak uses GIS (Geographic Information Systems) a web-based technology in her class to help students trace information about “medieval travel routes – such as climate, terrain, cities, and roads – with historical research about specific locations along those routes.” The course is aimed to counter the portrayal in contemporary culture today that “the medieval world was exclusively white, Christian and European” and to instead reveal the web of alliances that were made in the Middle Ages “across cultures and continents.”

Jennie Carr and Courtney Rydel’s essay, “Medieval Birds: Science Meets Poetry” describes the origin and results of a fascinating pedagogical collaboration between an ornithologist and a medievalist. This scientific/literary undertaking was designed to analyze actual bird behavior and medieval knowledge of birds as applied to Chaucer’s great bird poem, Parliament of Fowls. Topics Carr and Rydel developed from their collaboration included, “love and desire,” which includes a comparison between the mating practices of humans and avians; the form and politics of Chaucer’s poem; Chaucer’s understanding of birds in contrast to ornithologists’ studies today; and examining how birdsong – “both as a representation of animal calls and as theme” — operates in the poem. Carr and Rydel’s study opens not only an intriguing perspective on the poem, but also on how such effective interdisciplinary pedagogy stimulate new interpretations, bring Chaucer’s poem alive, and make it relevant to our world.