What the essays in this spring 2017 issue of the Once and Future Classroom have in common are the innovative ways in which each professor successfully creates active student learning communities. Our contributors offer a variety of methods to engage students with subject material that is often deemed too difficult or too remote for the typical medieval literature classroom. At other times, the works are taught regularly, but in ways that could be much more creative. By creating web materials for the study of Dante, Julia Bolton Holloway’s marvelous Dante vivo project responds to the call for a livelier pedagogy of Dante’s writings. Found at http://www.florin.ms/Dantevivo.html, Dante vivo aims to make Dante available “for everyone – as he intended” (Holloway). The entire text of the Commedia can be read while listening to each canto in one of two recorded versions and users can see stunning miniatures adapted from medieval manuscripts, relevant Botticelli drawings, and William Blake’s sketches. It is fascinating to read about this multi-layered hypertextual project, which not only includes musical and theatrical settings but lessons for elementary and university students on how to hypertext so that they can create their own personal Dante site.
Irena Berovic’s “Study Outside the Box – The ‘Modern’ Staging of the Middle English Everyman” leads us through her successful effort to encourage her German students studying in an English Literature program by teaching Everyman through group-based classroom work aimed at performance. Using a carefully outlined methodological process, Professor Berovic demonstrates how the steps she took impelled the class to take ownership of Everyman, discovering central issues for themselves, working through the problems of reading in Middle English, translating the text into Modern English; developing ideas for staging, script-writing and costuming so that their version of the play could be – and was – successfully performed.
Corey Sparks and Miranda Yaggi created a “Digital Anthology Project,” a student-oriented web-based project involving literary research, writing, and publication. In their essay, “Student Scholarly Identity and Multimodal Making with a Digital Anthology Project,” Sparks and Yaggi explain how they immersed their upper-level survey students in “a process of research, production, and mediation” that would be relevant to them while also providing the steps for creating their own anthology, complete with framing narratives. The authors make clear how this project demonstrated the students’ developing grasp of the included literary works, the contexts of the works, and a defense of why their anthology creates a “canon.” The digital anthology process is a robust way to employ the skills and learning involved in interpretive research papers but with the added advantage of engaging students in “an ongoing, semester-long process of rigorous research, analysis, argumentation, drafting, and revision that fosters intellectual community” (Sparks and Yaggi).
In “Gui de Cambrai’s Barlaam and Josaphat: A Primer of Medieval Christian Concepts for Undergraduates,” Marisa Sikes contends that comparative readings between a well-known, complex work, such as Dante’s Inferno and a lesser-known but more accessible work, such as Gui de Cambrai’s Barlaam and Josaphat, enhances her students’ understanding of the socio-cultural contexts of medieval literature. In her essay, Sikes offers an account of how excerpts from Barlaam and Josaphat can be effectively paired with the Inferno or other well-known medieval texts to offer an additional perspective on medieval religious practice. Barlaam and Josaphat assigned in Peggy McCracken’s “easily readable prose translation” provides a fitting counterpart to more challenging works, such as Dante’s Inferno or the Song of Roland by delineating major concepts and practices of medieval Christianity and by presenting numerous medieval genres, literary devices and styles. Explaining that the text, a westernized and Christianized retelling of the life of Buddha, showcases the intersection of East and West in the Middle Ages, this essay will surely inspire medievalists to include Barlaam and Josephat the next time they teach a medieval literature survey course.
Pamela Troyer’s “Canterbury Trails: Walking with Immigrants, Refugees, and the Man of Law” offers a fascinating look at how the undergraduates in a multicultural classroom related to Chaucer’s “Man of Law’s Tale” in surprising and unexpected ways. One of Troyer’s classes is a required literature survey in which students of various races, ethnicities and age, and with a variety of educational backgrounds are enrolled. She has found great success by opening up her students to the relevance and importance of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales through the Man of Law’s tale, or put another way, Troyer’s essay shows how her students impressed her with the unpredicted ways in which they understood this often-challenging tale. In her multicultural class, students were emotionally affected by the portrayal of the abandoned heroine, drifting from one unwelcoming location to the next. The “impersonal waves of exile and rejection” that Custance experiences struck students as a metaphor of social and geographic isolation, and to some, hit home more personally. The immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Troyer’s class understood and identified with Custance’s predicament, and they found this character from another age and unfamiliar culture to validate and mitigate the loneliness, disassociation, fear, and shame of migration that some of them had themselves undergone. The essay provides an absorbing study of how the lived experiences of some students can enhance their understanding of what might at first seem remote and demanding literature.
Our Annotated Bibliography for Teachers this issue is on “Race and Ethnicity: Saracens and Jews in Middle English Literature.” Part One of the bibliography offers a listing of critical backgrounds of general racial discourses in medieval Europe as a whole, extending beyond Middle English literature. The second and third parts begin with general works and then are subdivided into primary and secondary texts. Part Two addresses the medieval perspective of what it means to be Saracen, followed by smaller subsections organized by narrative types. Part Three, organized in the same manner, focuses on Jewish figures.
The authors of the essays in this issue demonstrate various ways in which medieval texts can be made relevant and important to this generation’s students. The essays’ forays into their topics make enlightening and enjoyable reading.
Wake Forest University