Category Archives: Travels

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.”

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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.
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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.
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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.
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–Kisha

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Of Drama and Marie de France: Day 3, Kalamazoo

Day 3: Medieval Drama and Marie de France

Today began with me playing moderator to a session sponsored by the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society, “Post Death/After Life on the Medieval and Early Modern Stage. Two of the presenters are friends and colleagues of mine, and I was pleased to moderate for them. The three papers were really thought-provoking. For instance, the N-Town Lazarus and the Chester Antichrist plays have a great deal of conditional language in them – “if…then.” The Antichrist in the Chester states (paraphrasing), “If I can indeed bring these people back from the dead, then you shall believe in me.” The consolers in the N-Town make conditional statements concerning what Lazarus should do on his death bed. It made me think about the nature of such statements and how they would work very well in drama. For one, it encourages anticipation – will this indeed happen? Or will such and such character really “fall for it”? It also encourages the audience to consider the conditions on offer. Do they believe it? Would they react differently? Is a character presenting “truth” or is he offering “false truth”? The conditional statements work well in developing engagement.

Another thought this panel raised concerns the Ars MoriendiI have studied the Ars Memoria quite a bit, and it occurred to me while listening to the paper on N-Town by my friend that I should look in to the Ars Moriendi as well. Its discussion of what to do at the end of life, how to meet death, might have some great implications for memory.

After this session, I attended the International Marie de France Society business meeting. I have decided to join, which means I need to return my membership form (note to self). Afterwards I stayed for the Teaching Marie de France roundtable I mentioned here yesterday. Some interesting points of discussion were raised. The first was a link to the site Performing Medieval Narrative Today, which I think is going to be an excellent resource for teaching. In addition, an historian was on the panel, who talked about using Marie de France – Bisclavret, in particular – in his history courses. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, as I feel history and literature are almost inseparable, and I enjoy hearing about teachers who make the connections between them. I am going to consider using his primary source suggestions in my own teaching of Marie: Fulbert of Chartres, “On Feudal Obligations” and Ranulf de Glanvill, “Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England”. Juxtaposing these next to Bisclavret could promote some productive discussions about lord/vassal relationships, as demonstrated by Bisclavret and the King. 

All for now – I am off to a business meeting of the Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages!

–Kisha

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The Program: Day 2, Kalamazoo

Day 2: Thinking about the Kzoo Program

This morning I am reflecting on the program of sessions. It’s part of the ritual (or my ritual – I don’t know about anyone else!) to plan out the sessions I want to attend and think about the broad spectrum of work offered by my fellow medievalists. It’s often a mind-boggling experience, given the depth and breadth of topics and disciplines. The sheer number of subjects of which I haven’t even previously heard is humbling as well as exciting.

I am rather conditioned at this point to pick out those sessions and papers with any reference to memory in them. This year, the vast majority of those about memory are Anglo-Saxon-specific. Two sessions in particular, “Memory and Community in Anglo-Saxon England” (413) and “Memory at Work In Anglo-Saxon England” (519), are entirely devoted to the subject. The first is primarily comprised of papers on Beowulf; the title “Burning to Remember, Eating to Forget” has immense possibilities. The latter session includes a title that intrigues me – “Memory and Identity Formation: A Cognitive Construction of the Self in The Wanderer.” I often teach this text through the concept of memory, particularly its bittersweet components. Is it better to remember or to forget? Which causes the most pain? This title makes me consider the possibilities of the loss of memory dealing the final “death blow” to The Wanderer’s previous life. Is it in the pain of remembering that he still retains what is left of his kin, of his role in society? If he forgets, will he, in essence, cease to exist? Another session, “Text and Image II: Memory and Visual Space” (232), looks interesting. As is not uncommon, there are several individual papers exploring the connections between death and memory.

Coinciding with being hired at Fitchburg State, I have found my interest in panels shifting. Now, at least half of the time, I choose sessions based upon what might be beneficial to me in the classroom. For instance, a roundtable on Friday (260), “Teaching Marie de France” (sponsored by the International Marie de France Society), is calling to me. As I was just mentioning last night, my students adore Marie de France. It has been one of the biggest surprises as a teacher; for some reason, I did not expect her to be such a draw. However, she does have everything – romance, intrigue, werewolves, knight-saving damsels, resurrecting weasels. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. At any rate, I am curious what others have to say.

Then there is always the almost hagiographic torture of the sessions that are happening while I am already booked!

I need a rest, and this is only the program!

–Kisha

 

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Past Meets Present: Day 1, Kalamazoo

John beat me to the post today on a Kzoo-themed update! I will echo his plug for our roundtable: Saturday, May 11, 10AM (Session 382): Blogging the Medieval(ist) World.

In the spirit of my planned comments for this roundtable concerning the development of a new blog, I am going to attempt something a little different this year and actually blog from the conference. I know – it’s a brave new world (or new to me – others have been doing this for years!). I am going to give this a try this time and see how it goes.

To that end…

Day 1: The Journey Begins – Past Meets Present

I always get a bit frantic right before taking off for Kzoo. It falls right in my last week of classes and before finals – not the least stressful time of the semester. And, yet, I smile every time I get news (these days, over Facebook) of an old friend who is making the same journey, generally in the midst of just as much chaos as I am. I wrote last year on this blog – Recap: Kzoo, Jobs, Travel, Research, and Teaching – about the joy in reunions and the continued connection Kalamazoo gives me with colleagues now across the map. Tonight, I know there will be a lively band of us, buying drinks for each other at Waldo’s, shaking off the haze of travel, celebrating good news, and taking advantage of the time we have to reconnect. It seems just a moment in time ago that we were all grad students – some of us more intimidated by Kzoo than others – trying to forge a future in this strange, highly specialized, and exciting (sometimes exotic) discipline. To think, now, how we have found our paths and made careers in this profession we love is worth a toast or three.

To the ‘Zoo!

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ICMS at Kalamazoo 2013: MassMedieval panel reminder!

As I sit in Logan airport and wait to board my flight to the 2013 Congress, I thought I’d take the opportunity to invite all readers of this journal to our MassMedieval-sponsored panel:

Saturday, May 11, 10AM (Session 382): Blogging the Medieval(ist) World

A roundtable discussion featuring:

Peter Konieczny and Sandra Alvarez, http://www.medievalists.net

Meg Roland, http://www.passionategeography.com (Marylhurst University)

Jennifer Adams (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Elizabeth Anderson, http://www.voicheascoltate.com/blog (University of Chicago)

Kisha Tracy, MassMedieval Blog (Fitchburg State University)

Moderator: John Sexton, MassMedieval blog (Bridgewater State University)

A happy and productive conference to all those attending. See you there!

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Photos from Student Trips to the Higgins

In addition to the photos below, one of my students recently blogged for the university about her experience at the Higgins. I echo John’s sentiments – the Museum’s closing will be a great loss.

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England Study Abroad…Test Run

As I mentioned on a previous post, I took a trip to England this summer, both as (primarily!) a vacation and as a bit of a test run for a future study abroad course I will be leading in 2014 (that date just looks impossible and yet it is incredibly near). Here, as promised, are a few notes…

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, built 1385. I actually chose this particular site somewhat at random. Travelling with my six-year-old nephew, I wanted to make sure he saw a little of everything, and this castle has…wait for it…a moat! As it turns out, it was a good decision. In a remote area, Bodiam is rather an idyllic setting , which explains, as I learned later, why it was such a popular destination in the 18th century – a perfect opportunity to discuss medievalism and the varying interest in the period up to present times.

Bodiam Castle, chapel ruins

I was particularly intrigued by the chapel ruins at Bodiam. With no roof and the only remnants the empty window frames, it invokes a sense of the passage of time. It’s easy enough to imagine what it originally looked like, and yet there is the bittersweet melancholy of decay. Bodiam was the first site we visited, and I think it is an effective starting point – low-key, yet interesting, and definitely beautiful.

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Westminster Abbey, Chapter House

Westminster Abbey, London (well, really, Westminster). Westminster needs no justification as a place to visit. The amount of connections that can be made at the Abbey are limitless. Chaucer and Poet’s Corner. Edward the Confessor. Coronations. Architecture. The place is packed full (quite literally) of history and culture. Constructed in the mid-13th century, the Chapter House, however, deserves a great deal of attention. From the oldest door in England (1050!) to its paintings and stone benches, it is by far my favorite spot in Westminster.

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Tower of London

Tower of London. Like Westminster, the Tower really needs no justification. Its historical striations  are complex and compact, building on each other and creating a spider web of English culture. Here is the moment to connect medieval and Early Modern history together, demonstrating how it develops rather than abruptly shifts. For myself, I am always intrigued by the Norman presence within the White Tower, particularly the chapel.

Tower of London, inside St. Thomas’s Tower

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Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral, Kent. For a medievalist, every trip to Canterbury Cathedral is a pilgrimage. It is easily one of the most prominent literary sites, of course. This was my first time at Canterbury, and it didn’t disappoint. Winding through streets, looking for the cathedral, then finding it at the end of an alley. The gateway obscuring it until you get close enough to peer through, and then your breath is taken away. I was fortunate in that it was a beautiful day – all blue skies and cotton clouds. When we first arrived, there was a graduation ceremony taking place inside, and, as luck would have it, the choir was singing. A perfect moment. Like any medieval visitor, I stared straight up in awe. It’s difficult not to. The sheer scope of the cathedral is unbelievable.

The crypt is the place to go first. We were found by a lady working there who told wonderful stories about Becket. I found it easier to conceptualize the inside of the cathedral after having seen the crypt.

Canterbury Cathedral, shrine of Thomas Becket

The shrine to Thomas Becket is also a powerful aspect of the cathedral (and well-represented with the above sculpture and the single candle marking where his tomb rested) – and again the opportunities for teaching are endless.

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Dover Castle

Dover Castle, Kent. I have already posted about Dover, so I won’t say much here. Still, I wanted to include a photo.

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Glastonbury Abbey, site of alleged tombs of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere

Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset. If I absolutely must choose my favorite site from this trip, I will have to go with Glastonbury Abbey (the birds of prey exhibit and being able to hold a falcon definitely added to the experience). Given one of my interests is Arthurian literature, being able to visit the ruins was a special treat. It helps that it lived up to expectations as a peaceful place, worthy of all the stories of its sacredness and import. There are two signs (one of which is above) marking the Arthurian significance of the site. I think it would be quite a revelation to students after reading any version of the death of Arthur. Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia .

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Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne, Holy Island, Northumberland. Lindisfarne is a long drive up north, but well worth it. There’s an inescapable excitement in crossing over the causeway – after consulting the tidal charts just to make sure you don’t get stranded there! The little village, surrounding the Priory ruins, and the castle looming in the distance make for quite the atmosphere. I don’t think students can appreciate the vulnerability of Lindisfarne to the Viking attack in 793 until seeing it. There is an exhibition concerning the Gospel – the manuscript itself is travelling to the island, I believe, next year. I was concerned that the Island was too far out of the way, but I really wouldn’t want the students to miss it.

Lindisfarne Priory, view from the sea side of the island

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Chesters Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall

Chesters Roman Fort, Hexham, Northumberland. Chesters was built to guard the part of Hadrian’s Wall that crossed over the bridge on the River North Tyne. The ruins are very well-preserved, particularly the rather intricate bathhouse. It’s an excellent example of life in Roman Britain, with the museum providing all kinds of artifacts from Chesters and other parts of the Wall. There are two sections of the Wall itself still intact, demonstrating how the fort and the Wall connected. I chose Chesters for the sake of ease of travel; however, Corbridge Roman Town is another site I will consider in the future as a companion to it.

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Sherwood Forest, Major Oak

Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire. I said above that Glastonbury was my favorite site. This is only because I put Sherwood in a class of its own. There are many things I could say about the forest, but I will limit myself to its pedagogical assets. First on that list is, of course, its literary connections. Seeing Sherwood makes the stories real. However, beyond that, I think the sheer age of the forest is its value. It is difficult, even for New Englanders, to grasp the weight of time in England as compared to the United States. In Sherwood, it is inescapable.

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I think the key to a study abroad trip of this nature is variety – expressing ideas, history, and culture from the perspective of different types of people, different architecture, different ways to connect what they have read to what they are seeing. With all of these sites, we have cathedrals, abbeys, castles, rural areas, cities, islands, forests, etc. We have Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Middle English, Early Modern. In case you haven’t picked up on it, the word “connection” is very important to me – as an individual, as a researcher, and as a teacher. I have some tweaking to do as well as some adding (I want to include some libraries into the mix), but I’m calling the test run a success.

I, naturally, have all kinds of texts in mind to assign for this course, but I would be interested in hearing ideas about what you would assign as companions to these sites.

–Kisha

PS For more photos, see my Flickr set.

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Travel Destination 2012: Dover Castle

First of all, I commented in my last update that Facebook was an entirely different post. Well, I wrote that post – but for a different blog, my colleague Ben Railton’s American Studier. If you’re interested in my musings about social media and American views of isolation, check it out here.

I also mentioned that I would be doing a series of posts on various sites I plan to visit this summer in England.

My travel MAP.

Today, let’s go to Dover Castle.

(VERY) Brief history:

Potential Iron Age earthworks

Roman lighthouse, c.50CE (the Roman invasion is usually dated to 43CE)

Saxon fortified settlement

Norman invasion, 1066

  • Due to Dover’s strategic location, it played a role even in the early negotiations between William the Conqueror (when he was still just the Bastard) and Harold Godwinson. According to William of Poitiers (of course, William was on the Conqueror’s payroll, so we have to be a little careful about his statements) in his Gesta Guillelmi Ducis Normannorum et Regis Anglorum (“Deeds of William Duke of the Normans and King of the English,” 1071-77), Dover was part of the fealty Harold swore to the Duke, promising to fortify the castle for William at his own expense:

“traditurum interim ipsius militum custo dise castrum Doveram, studio atque sumptu suo commu uitum”[1]

  • Later, after the Battle of Hastings, William, on his way to his coronation, made a point of stopping at Dover – a side trip that ended in flames, according to William of Poitiers. The Duke then had a timber fortification constructed.

Henry II, 1133-89

  • Designed by Henry’s architect, Maurice the Engineer, the actual castle was built between 1180-85.
  • It was designed as both a defensive fortification and a location for royal ceremony.
  • It is believed that Henry took advantage of the new popularity of the nearby Canterbury Cathedral, after the murder of St.Thomas Becket. Ironic, given his involvement in the death.

First Barons’ War, 1216

  • The French king Louis VIII tried to take the castle with the help of some of the barons.
  • During the battle, the only example of a counter tunnel was created. The tunnels, and later additions, played a role in Napoleonic times and during the World Wars.

Personal interest:

Well, any one of the bullet points above would be enough to make me want to spend days tromping around the castle and its environs. (If I’m completely honest, a castle wouldn’t even need to have a history to make me happy.) However, I’ll pick one reason here. Henry II. My favorite English king. Was he a good guy? Probably not – okay, really not. But is he cool? Absolutely. I wrote an encyclopedia article on him several years back. An excerpt:

At the time of Henry’s succession to the throne, which was the first peaceful transition of power in several generations, he was the most powerful lord in Europe; he controlled over half of the French territories through inheritance and marriage, an area stretching over 500 miles, approximately the length of Britain. As a result of Henry’s mass accumulation of land, the power structure in Europe changed considerably in the 1150’s; French duchies that had once been in competition with one another now owed allegiance to one man, who was also the king of England. Given the breadth and wealth of his holdings, Henry could claim to be more influential than the king of France, his ostensible overlord. By the end of his reign, his provinces would extend all the way to the Mediterranean, successfully preventing any territorial expansion on the part of the French monarchy. In Britain, he effected the restoration of Cumberland, Westmorland, and Northumbria from the king of Scotland in 1157, conquered parts of Ireland in the 1170’s, which he later granted to his son John, and negotiated the fealty of the Welsh princes. [2]

All interesting developments. Great history. But my overriding interest in him is simple: his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. My medieval heroine. To think of wandering around a site Henry II commissioned and where Eleanor stayed from time to time never fails to make me shiver with excitement.

Teaching potential:

  • Dover’s long, varied history provides an excellent example of the early history of Britain. Iron Age. Romans. Saxons. Normans. Plantagenets. They all left their mark, and they all wanted to exploit Dover’s strategic location.
  • The way the medieval history of the castle is woven into more recent events, such as WWII, makes for a poignant connection.
  • The “history” written by such men as William of Poitiers allows for a moment to consider the genre and the biases of particular individuals.
  • The court of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine is the center of much of the literary activity of the twelfth century. Locating it in a place like Dover makes it real.
  • The relationship between Canterbury and Dover provides some interesting considerations.
  • Have one of your own to add? 

There is more, so much more, about Dover Castle – its use as a defensive fortification, its political significance to Henry, the restoration of its Great Tower…the list could go on.

— Kisha

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[1] William of Poitiers, Scriptores rerum gestarum Willelmi Conquestoris, ed. John Allen Giles (London, 1845), 108.

[2] “Henry II,” The Early Peoples of Britain and Ireland: An Encyclopedia, ed. Christopher A. Snyder (Oxford: Greenwood, 2008), 303.

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Recap: Kzoo, Jobs, Travel, Research, and Teaching

I could simply apologize for the long hiatus on MassMedieval, but it’s much more entertaining to blame Mother Nature and her insane decision to include only twenty-four hours in a day. It’s very unkind of her, and I do believe she needs to reconsider her position on this matter. As John hinted in his last post, his personal life has undergone serious changes – or, rather, one small one. I have no such excuse, unless you count a new kitten who only demands my time in that her antics are all too tempting of a distraction.

So shall we recap?

From every shires ende of academia to Kalamazoo they wende: As per usual, I made my trek into the wilds of Michigan to join my fellow medievalists in the rites of Spring – otherwise known as Kalamazoo and the International Congress. It occurred to me this time how poignant of a reunion the conference is for me these days. In graduate school, my colleagues and I transplanted ourselves en masse from Connecticut to Michigan to partake in the festivities and the academic discussion. Now, my former graduate colleagues are spread across the country, making the conference our one place a year to reconnect (unless you count Facebook – but that’s an entirely different post). It is heartening that the bond we forged in grad school still exists, almost effortlessly recreated as we willingly seek each other out and share our stories. The University of Connecticut program has always been unique in that we pride ourselves on our camaraderie, to the point of gleefully helping each other find jobs and professional (as well as personal) opportunities. I count myself fortunate.

Second year on the job: The end of this semester marked my second year as an Assistant Professor of English Studies at Fitchburg State University. In some ways, it has been like an extended first year as I was rehired in the second year to a tenure-track position. It’s been a busy year for my department – moving into temporary digs as our offices are remodeled, dealing with growing pains, hiring new faculty (as I got my first taste of being a search committee chair), etc. Plenty of opportunities for a new professor with an inability to say “no” to get involved in every way possible. Remember my lament for the miniscule twenty-four hours?

Across the pond: One of the more exciting developments this year was having a new course approved – English Studies Abroad. I wouldn’t recommend speaking to me about it because I’m sure I get that maniacal glint of glee in my eyes at the idea of taking students overseas to experience what they read. Yes, travelling with undergraduates has its stresses, but the rewards are also great. And, of course, there is the necessity of a “dry run,” as it were. At least that’s my rationale for planning a vacation to England this summer. I’m playing tourist, not the academic, this time, and I’m looking forward to seeing the sights through my mother’s and my six-year-old nephew’s eyes. If you would like to see proposed destinations, check this map out. I plan a series of posts on these sites – some before, some after the trip.

Summers are for research: I decided to take a break from teaching this summer to complete some research. First and foremost on the list is an article for an upcoming handbook, Medieval Culture: A Compendium of Critical Topics. The project is described as including “a wide range of fundamental aspects relevant for the cultural history of the European Middle Ages” and the topics will be “from an interdisciplinary and trans-European perspective.” My subject is – wait for it – memory. I’m looking forward to finishing up this work. Oddly enough, I find the idea of medieval memory as fascinating now as I did when I first decided on my dissertation topic. As an added bonus, I was named a Harrod Lecturer here at Fitchburg for the Fall; my lecture will also be related to memory, giving me another opportunity to play around in the medieval mind.

Back in the classroom: On tap for the Fall, I have two new courses to plan. The first is an undergraduate Classic Mythology course. This prospect has also made me inordinately giddy. Mythology is a side interest of mine, and I am eager to put the class together. An unexpected problem has developed in that…well…there is just too much to cover. An embarrassment of riches. Narrowing down and finding the right, most exciting approach will be difficult. I’ll have a post about this before too long as I make decisions. The second is a graduate course, “Disease and Disability in Early Literature.” One of the positive side effects of attending Kalamazoo is a renewed (although never dead) interest in medieval disability studies. This course will be a welcome extension of that interest. And, given how thought-provoking my grad course on the history of memory was this semester, I am anticipating a good class.

I could go on. The life of a professor is never dull! But let’s leave it there with a promise for a more focused post next time.

— Kisha

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You Know You Are a Medievalist When…

Before beginning my real topic for the day, I should provide a follow-up to the previous post. The Bruins got the Stanley Cup! I personally am still riding the high and plan to continue doing so right through next season.

Tim Thomas - Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Rolling Rally

Duck Boat - Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Rolling Rally

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I am not sure why – perhaps because I was scanning through my photos in order to pick out one for the blog header – but I recently found myself reminiscing about a trip to Denmark I took a few years ago. I was an instructor of a study abroad course on Vikings, and I accompanied twelve students for a little over a week during Spring Break. We toured the country from Copenhagen to Roskilde, up the Eastern coast to Århus and Lindholm Høje. Along the way, we were run out of Heorot/Gammel Lejre by a very Grendel-esque character, we traipsed over the remains of fortresses, we stared at the Grauballe Man (check out Seamus Heaney’s poem about the bog man here), and we were caught in the middle of a Military Police exercise while exploring a Viking burial ground. It was, needless to say, a series of (mis)adventures.

The most memorable occasion on this trip, however, was a “free” half day during which the other instructor and I went in different directions, letting the kids decide where they wanted to go. My group decided on a road trip – we had a destination in mind, the town of Viborg, and the only rule was that we would stop whenever someone wanted. This meant we stopped by a fishing museum in the middle of nowhere and found the best smørrebrød in the world (if you haven’t had it, get on a plane to Denmark immediately).

It was the lonely curator at the fishing museum who, upon finding out why we were in his country, mentioned the ruins. He didn’t know much about them – some monastery or another. But they were medieval, he was sure. That’s about all it took to capture our imagination, so, armed with a vague set of directions (it was the equivalent of “turn right at the gas station that went out of business thirty years ago,” only complicated by the whole being in a foreign country thing), we took off. Just as we were about to decide, with disappointment,  that we had missed it and that we should simply continue on to Viborg, my navigator exclaimed and pointed at the building we were passing. Turning around in a cow pasture, we went back.

There wasn’t a soul in sight when we parked – just a huge, white building next to a pile of ruins. An isolated sign told the story: the site of Vitskøl Abbey, given to the Cistercians in 1158 by King Valdemar I and dissolved during the Reformation.

Vitskøl Abbey - Denmark (click on photo to enlarge)

Vitskøl Abbey - Denmark

My students quickly moved on to explore, but I stood there and stared at the sign. 1158. And it was just on the side of the road. We had practically stumbled across it, an almost forgotten landmark. I looked around at the broken columns, which I later learned had been destroyed in a fire in 1287. Reaching out, I touched the stone. While we had been to many pre-historic and Viking sites already on our trip, this was from my era of specialty. It was the first time I had been to such a site (no time and low finances – bad combination for getting overseas). I’d always known I had gone into the right field, but, as I stood there, it was confirmed. I could stand in the middle of nowhere in an obscure ruin and be utterly content. I could imagine what it had looked like, the people, the day-to-day life. It was a perfect moment, one in which all my training and all my love for this time period in history intersected. As simple as it was, it’s one of my favorite memories and one I’ll never forget. I need to revisit my old photos more often.

(PS: I feel like the title of this post deserves comment. Anyone care to offer an ending to the joke?)

–Kisha

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