>OK all you smart medievalists and medieval lit teaching early modernists out there, I need your advice.
For five out of the last six academic years, I’ve taught our medieval-literature-excluding-Chaucer class, which is one of those monstrous 800 years in 16 weeks kind of courses. It’s like I’m the only person in the department who has to teach a real survey course, and frankly, I’m not fond of survey courses. After doing this five times I can see very clearly just how superficial our discussion of *everything* is. And there are certain texts I feel like I have to do every time, which means that even though they’re texts I like very much and find something new in every time (e.g., Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), I’m still getting bored with them or with the discussions and papers they provoke. And a bored teacher is a bad teacher. One semester after winning that Awesomest Prof Ever award and I’m starting to look more like Lamest. Prof. Ever.
So I talked with Milton about this, as he’s the chair of the undergrad lit curriculum committee. We discussed the possibility of splitting the class into two — one Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic (and Latin!), and one Anglo-Norman and Middle English (and Latin!) — or about just alternating the subject each time I taught it. See, in our curriculum, students don’t have a lot of historical period requirements — they simply have to take at least one pre-1800 lit class and one post-1800 lit class in the British lit offerings — so it’s not like I’d be gypping them on their way to their early modern class if they got the ASNaC version instead of the late medieval version. But yeah, I would be exposing them to less of the broader medieval period, of course. (An aside: I’ve become more and more convinced over time that specific content knowledge is less important than the broader intellectual experiences and skills learned in a variety of classes, across the curriculum and across the major. But that’s a post for another day.) So Bullock suggested that in changing the course description (if I keep it a single course), I should also make it repeatable if the content is different, which will be especially important for undergrads and grad students who want to go on to the Ph.D. and specialize in medieval literature — it will actually give them *more* instruction in the field. I’m now also thinking that I want to keep the option of doing the whole 800-year shebang so that if I want to do a thematic course across the period, I can. Plus, we all know how porous that 1066 boundary is. Finally, I want to be able to throw a bit of Chaucer in there if I want. This “excluding Chaucer” business is nutty, especially since it’s not like students are definitely going to take the Chaucer class for their single author requirement, since they have a range of choices.
So here’s what I’m thinking of doing. I’ll keep it one course, but I’ll change the title to something like “Topics in Medieval Literature” (or maybe just “Medieval Literature”) and write a general catalog description that makes clear that some offerings might be ASNaC oriented, some might be about the late medieval period, and some might be thematically focused, and students may repeat the course when the content changes. (We have departmental course descriptions that give a better sense of the specific course and its expectations.) And then, starting with the next time I teach the class, I’ll start developing different variations.
Now, here’s where you come in. First of all, what do you think of this general plan? Am I missing any possible significant repercussions? I don’t think enrollment will be an issue, since most of our students pick courses by a) what’s required (in this case, that means pre-1800 lit), b) what fits their schedule, c) where the class is located, and d) who is teaching the course, so no matter what specific topic or area I’m doing in a given semester, I’m likely to get more or less the same students. I think. But is there anything else I’m not taking into account?
Second, if you were to do an ASNaC course, what Norse and Celtic literature would you assign? And are there good secondary works (guides, companions, or histories) that you have found useful for yourself or your students? One of the things, ideally, that I’d like to do in each of these revamped courses is not only give students more experience with the primary texts of a given period or genre, but also make some room for both historical contexts and the literary scholarship of the field. I’m especially ill-informed on the Norse and Celtic side of the ASNaC trinity.