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Having come direct from reading the Guardian’s reports on Tunisia over breakfast, I am now re-reading Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy, in preparation for my paper at Leeds in a week or so’s time. The deep truths of the following paragraph struck me forcibly. I offer without further comment:

The traditional approach is to trace the background of dissidents, assuming that the formative experience takes place before the individual enters a heretical cell and that his sense of solidarity is based upon a previously developed, commonly held need. However, membership in any group proceeds in stages. The familial, institutional, intellectual, or “class” bonds of the individual before joining are only the point of departure. In many cases the process of socialization continues within the group and arises, as suggested, from patterns of interaction with the other members. This period of education helps determine later behaviour (and may, as well, influence the reinterpretation of earlier events). … Group interaction also determines doctrinal dissemination. Only rarely is an idea utilized by a small voluntary association simply because it has deep historical roots. It must also respond to a problem in the here and now: in that sense, all dissident movements, whether heretical or reformist, are contemporaneous phenomena, no matter how they historicize their origins. (pp.100-101).

If you’d been in the corridors around my office a few weeks back, you would have come across me and several of my wonderful tutors and colleagues bedecked in thirteenth century(ish) garb. This was not a closet cosplay club. This was serious pedagogy folks. In the closing week of semester, we held a ‘Medieval Expo’ of student posters, videos and podcasts aimed at educating a general audience about the middle ages, and turned it into a festival with staff and students in costume and prizes for the ‘People’s Choice’ displays.

ingeborg kathleen computer expo caulfield

Checking out some student work in character as Ingeborg of Denmark

To my mind, historical education is a serious business, but that’s no reason not to have fun as well. After all, I love what I do, so why can’t students be encouraged to have a blast while also acquiring historical knowledge and transferable skills?

Apparently not quite everyone agreed, although the students raved about it and all the teaching staff involved were excited by this innovative addition to the assessment program. The odd dissenting voice of critique seemed to suggest that in dressing up we had undermined our own and our discipline’s credibility. This not a unique view: ‘real’ historians often deride ‘amateur’ re-enactment troupes and the SCA set. This was the prevailing attitude I encountered as an undergraduate student myself. Now, I find I beg to differ. Let me tell you why.

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

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Twitter: @KB_Neal

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