English Studies Abroad: “Footsteps of Legend in Medieval England”

That time is here again. Preparing and finalizing syllabi for the semester. I had a bit of a challenge for this spring: designing a study abroad course. I thought I would share some of my thoughts here.

The Background

A couple of years ago, I designed a shell course for my department – ENGL 3025: English Studies Abroad (previously mentioned here) – with the following description:

Special topics taken in a foreign study program. The topics covered in this course will vary according to the location of the program, duration of travel, and specialty of the respective instructors. Each version of the course will concentrate on the literary culture of the locale of the program and incorporate the value of travel and intellectual inquiry in the experience of reading, writing, performing, and/or teaching. Possible locations abroad include England, Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, India, the Middle East, South Africa, etc.

The hope is that instructors who want to teach this course, from any of our three concentrations of literature, professional writing, or secondary education, will be able to do so, choosing the focus that fits their interests and specialties.

With the development of ENGL 3025, planning began as I will have the privilege of being the first to teach it. Working with our Office of International Education, the details took shape. I wanted to try a spring break model for a couple of reasons. One, I have experience with this particular model as I was a secondary instructor on a Denmark study abroad when I was a graduate student and it worked very well. Two, it is a bit more doable for some of our students, particularly in terms of cost and for those who may not be able to be away for a longer period of time. Three, who doesn’t want to spend spring break travelling?!

The Course

For my first foray into leading my own study abroad, I chose England. The name of the course is “Footsteps of Legend in Medieval England.” The course description:

Many medieval English characters, historical figures, and authors – from King Arthur to Robin Hood and Richard the Lionhearted to Geoffrey Chaucer – have become familiar through films and other forms of popular culture and have influenced a variety of modern literature – including Lord of the Rings. But what are the actual stories behind these characters? Where did the legends begin?

The first part of this course will take an in-depth look at a selection of these popular stories, studying the literature that shaped them as well as the locations in which they developed and focusing on how they became the legends we know today. Then, during spring break, students will have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of legend, by visiting sites in England relevant to their studies, gaining first-hand cultural experience. Destinations will include libraries, museums, cultural attractions, cathedrals, and cities in various locations around the country.

The class meets regularly for the first part of the semester, and then we take off for England for ten days at spring break. After that, we will meet a couple of more times (the reasons for which I’ll mention in a moment).

I decided to structure the in-class part of the course mostly around the different locations we are going to visit, allowing students to have experience before they even see the sights. Thus, with two exceptions, each week has a theme dedicated to a city, and the readings are either about that city or are in some way connected to it. For instance, part of the London week is dedicated to Chaucer, which leads into the beginning of the Canterbury week, which includes part of The Canterbury Tales. And so on for theseother locations: Bath, Oxford, and Warwick and Leeds Castles (yes, the last are not cities, but you get the picture!). The remaining two weeks are focused on  legendary figures: King Arthur and Robin Hood. A course concerning legends in England would not be complete without them, in my humble opinion. Also, we will make the Stonehenge connection with the stories about Merlin. (I previously posted a while back about a “test run” to England with potential destinations. Some of these were not feasible monetarily-speaking, but the schedule our travel advisor put together is awesome.)

The Assignments

I’m trying out some different things in this class. For one, all of the course documents, readings, and assignments are on Google Drive. This is the first time I have done this, and I am curious to see how it works. Next, our travel/reading journals are going to be created on the site Storify. To develop a sense of camaraderie, I too am going to have my own journal, so “cleverly” titled “Dr. T Goes to England.”

As another online project, we are going to create a Google Map (here). Each student is required to add a location point along with a description related to the city/figure under discussion each week before we leave. Also, I have designed a weekly activity that is quite a bit outside the box, including, for example, a trebuchet battle.
When we return, we will continue our journals, updating them with ideas from our travel. Then, I am in the process of setting up two public presentations – one to the honors academy of a local high school and the other to the community historical society. The students will run these presentations on their own, drawing from their experiences and the work they have done throughout the semester.
Needless to say, I am SO excited – both for the travel and to see how these experiments pan out. I very much hope that the students jump into the work and the experience with enthusiasm. The more excited they are the more fun we are going to have. Each week, I will post what we read, the weekly activity, and updates on the Google Map Project, among other details of the class. So stay tuned.


Filed under Teaching, Technology, Travels

2 responses to “English Studies Abroad: “Footsteps of Legend in Medieval England”

  1. Pingback: English Studies Abroad: Bath | MASSachusetts State Universities MEDIEVAL Blog

  2. Pingback: Mapa de la Edad Media - Mapa interactivo de la historia medieval - Igeo.tv

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