From the category archives:

British Literature

CFP: Teaching Rape in Brit Lit

by Dr Davis on June 24, 2014

Hubert_Gerhard rape Tarquinius_Attacking_Lucretia_-_Walters_54662 c1600 WC pdTeaching Rape: Approaches to Difficult Texts in the Medieval Literature Classroom
CFP for Collected Essays

Alison Gulley
contact email:
[email protected]

I am seeking submissions for a collection addressing effective and ethical approaches to teaching episodes involving rape in medieval literature. I am looking for discussions that address the needs of students at all levels, from freshman and sophomore surveys to graduate seminars, and in a wide variety of institutions of higher education including community colleges, small private and public 4-year liberal arts colleges, church-affiliated colleges and universities, single-sex colleges and universities, flagship and Research I institutions, HBCUs, and regional comprehensives. In addition, the volume will cover a variety of genres spanning the Middle Ages in Europe.

The issue of rape has been an important one among feminist circles for several decades, but only recently has it become the focus of a national conversation, involving voices from across the political spectrum and society. While some conservative voices are actively trying to discount the severity of the problem and to deny the existence of an American “rape culture,” most participants in the discussion agree that we are at a critical cultural moment in terms of dealing with the kinds of policies, belief systems, attitudes, and behaviors that lead to sexual violence. Our students, consciously or not, come to the classroom informed by such traumatic events as the Steubenville, Ohio, rapes of 2012, and by the growing press coverage of the status and treatment of women around the world. The recent shootings at UC-Santa Barbara highlight the schizophrenic attitudes that Americans have toward women, sexuality, and violence. In addition, many of our students have first hand experience with sexual violence: several studies suggest that 1 in 4 or 5 college women is the victim of rape or attempted rape and that as many as 8% of college men have engaged in behaviors that meet the legal definition of rape. At this point in the project, I am particularly interested in non-Chaucerian texts.

Topics include but are not limited to the following:
? How are we supposed to understand an episode of rape in relation to the text in which it occurs?
? How does modern reception of texts differ from that of the original, intended audience? And how might we help our students effectively bridge that gap?
? As teachers and students, what do we do with medieval morality and humor that don’t naturally translate for a modern sensibility?
? What religious, political, and social contexts of a medieval text are necessary for our students to understand when reading medieval texts that include rape?
? How are instances of rape, attempted rape, or accusations of rape portrayed in such works, and how might students’ preconceived notions of the Middle Ages, of sexuality, or of violence shape their responses?
? What are the important distinctions, if any, that students might see between didactic texts such as saints’ lives and those texts generally considered to be written for entertainment?
? Are there specific activities or assignments that you’ve found to be effective in the classroom?
? Women are usually the victims in such texts, but how are men depicted as victims, if at all? Do you approach narratives in which men are victimized differently from those in which women are the victims? Do students react differently to such texts?

judith dining Cranach the elderPlease send a completed essay (4000-6000 words) or a proposal (500 words) along with a recent cv to Alison Gulley at [email protected] by September 1, 2014. A decision will be made by October 1 and final drafts of essays will be due by January 15, 2015.

From UPenn


Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford

by Dr Davis on June 19, 2014

Dr Sandra McNeil, Abbotsford House (Scott’s home)
Scott’s Conundrum Castle: Abbotsford as a Place of Learning

Learning Officer with Abbotsford, right in the heart of the Scottish borders

Discussing own engagement as a heritage educator: Offer Abbotsford as a case study, profound change through major capital development with a goal to re-engage local community with Abbotsford and with Scott’s work…

Abbotsford Sir Walter Scott home 1812This is an image of Cartleyhole Farm c. 1812 (purchased in 1811). As soon as he purchased the farmhouse, he added the columns.
locals called it “clarty hole” (muddy hole)
Scott renamed it Abbotsford.
humble farmhouse cottage and set about to change it
buildings associated with writing, but this is synonymous with him because he recreated it (Jefferson and Monticello)

Scott spent ½ year in Edinburgh, ½ year on the borders.

strange classical portico added as soon as he bought it
3 different architects
1 architect “Scottified it” (scots or scott? We don’t know.)
more like abbeys, churches
Turner sketched the cottage and first extension 1819. This was a simple sketch, outline only on yellow/yellowed paper.
removed the farmhouse and added second building–seen in an image entitled “house from the south court”
used “salvaged” or reclaimed articles
One example is The Tolbooth door from the Midlothian… Tradition held this was the door you passed through on your way to execution.

The house represents Scott’s antiquarian interests… emotional creation… perhaps a fiction.

Abbotsford_Morris_edited WC pdAmong other things he called Abbotsford:
a conundrum castle
flibberty gibbet of a house
Delilah of my imagination

His literary career was always part-time.
laird of Abbotsford, land of his ancestors
property opened to public as a tourist attraction within 5 months of his death
g-g-g-great-granddaughter died in 200X. 2007 a trust was established. Capital project to preserve building and catalog objects and education.
11.68M pounds
2010 green light to project

engage under-represented groups
schools, local families, adult learners, community groups

Heritage Education is very well developed in Scotland. Focuses on historic places/spaces. Experiential approach. Explore, engage with, be inspired by…

Abbotsford House, north elevation, by M. Schnitzler, WC CC3.

Abbotsford House, north elevation, by M. Schnitzler, WC CC3.

Evaluate what Abbotsford could offer to targeted audiences?
failing to attract the audiences
usually it was enthusiasts who came, making their own links between Abbotsford and their own connections to work
borderers’ enthusiasm with Scott not being passed down
not looking at its community

previous audience (restricted with those already familiar with Scott)
most visitors from overseas

Talked to the local teachers and found most of them were united in their guilt about their own lack of knowledge.
There is also a lack of teaching materials on Scott:
some adaptations, a few brochures, nothing related to Abbotsford
The teachers recognized it was in town, but didn’t understand how to link their classrooms to Abbotsford.
Scott’s writing was seen as a barrier. Difficult, long-winded…

Abbotsford by LeCardinal. WC CC3.

Abbotsford by LeCardinal. WC CC3.

Been learning as I go on about Scott and Abbotsford. That has helped me because I am thinking it through from audience point of view.

2 major sources:
1. paper given Dr. E Gordon Brown, 2000, examined Scott’s impulse to create Abbotsford—ties between literary achievements and building
“antiquarianism wasn’t an idle hobby” it was writing and collecting absolutely indivisible for Scott.
2. Abbotsford is the product of antiquarianism and its inspiration.
Scott offers lots of engagement. David Hewitt “bricalage of fragments” commenting on Scott’s guidebook to Abbotsford
“museum for living in” constructing a creative place of inspiration
use heritage to engage
taking their first steps to engaging with the poems and novels

Abbotsford by Ad Mesken, WC CC3.

Abbotsford by Ad Mesken, WC CC3.

Examples of last 3 years:
young people recording Scott’s border ballads
started reciting them together
not prompted, but enjoyed it

140 come for 3 days every September (4 had been there before)
this year half had been
now in this one school everyone in SD 1-5 has come to visit.

They’re coming…
We worked with an Edinburgh poet who specializes in responding to historic places, Ken Cockburn.

Photo by Christian Bickel, WC CC2.

Photo by Christian Bickel, WC CC2.

Engagement with local primary story, design intensive day, create a play trail in Abbotsford
almost everybody in this small village has been to Abbotsford
from there, these children all know the name

nursery class came in this morning

Sir Walter Scott. He was a writer. He built this interesting place.

project: October 2013, collaborative project with Scottish Chamber Orchestra
entire school system (200 students)
worked with composers to create their own songs


Sir Walter Scott, Portraiture

by Dr Davis on June 18, 2014

Continuation of
Sir Walter Scott and the New Science of Reading, a discussion forum
Royal Society of Edinburgh
June 16, 6 pm

portrait Sir Walter ScottDr Viccy Coltman, U of Edinburgh
portraiture in image and text
Scott’s attitude toward material culture, the visual arts, based on his copious correspondence was very negative. Basically he was an iconophobe.

Scott saw illustration of his works as lowering the work to meet the popular culture demands of the middle class.

But there are significant pictorial aspects of Scott’s work. Such as the different senses used to describe a face in the last discussion.

Fergus Mac-Ivor and Waverly in their Highland dress… reference to Raeburn
Scott sat for Raeburn 13 different times, for paintings

2 interrelated aspects of my ongoing work
chapter of a book I am writing

painted portraiture
“physiognomy of Romanticism” real and rhetorical practices of portraiture
look at an ekphrastic portrait in The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) chapter 26

staring picture of John Girder himself ornamented this dormitory, painted by a starving Frenchman…. utterly inconsistent with the dogged gravity of the original, that it was impossible to look at it without laughing…in presuming to hang it up in his bedchamber, had exceeded his privilege as the richest man of the village… respect for the memory of my deceased friend… has obliged me to treat this matter at some length; but I spare the reader his prolix through curious observations, as well upon the character of the French school as upon the state of painting in Scotland at the beginning of the 18th century

fictional portrait into the 1819 novel (first description of Scots painting–their unique styles–was 1817)

Scott was one of the 2 most painted private figures of the 18th C. (Wellington was the other.)

Russell’s catalog of Scott has 200+ busts, portraits, etc.
kaleidoscope of views from 5 yo Scott to after his death…

1871 exhibition had 171 images
2 Sir Walters, courtly baron surrounded by grandeur, others earthy Scott in the Scottish landscape

Portrait_of_James_Northcote_Painting_Sir_Walter_Scott WC pd
Northcote’s work 1828 capitalized on the fact that Scott has been painted so often
Sir Walter Scott being painted by James Northcote
Northcote in his Titian cap, before an enormous rectangular canvas—extends beyond the right hand frame
Scott with his back to the window, painted on the canvas of the portrait of Northcote is a full-frontal
original image has been lost
we have a smaller copy of it (38×49)
another presence in the canvas, the person who commissioned the image

Northcote includes his own portrait in the doubled portraiture of Scott
“I thought it a great honor to be on the same canvas with Sir Walter.”
double portrait of celebrity and artist’s self-portrait


Sir Walter Scott at the Royal Society of Edinburgh

by Dr Davis on June 16, 2014

Sir Walter Scott and the New Science of Reading, a discussion forum
Royal Society of Edinburgh
June 16, 6 pm

Sir Walter Scott, 1771 - 1832. Novelist and poetWhat caught my attention on the small sandwich board announcing the forum was the idea of brain science and “online” perception and the idea of virtual realities created by our brains for us as we read. This is not my experience with reading, but it sounded interesting and I thought I might be able to use some of the information, if it was, in fact, digital.

Having re-read the sandwich board, I don’t think there is any digital aspect, but it will be interesting nonetheless and I am interested in what Scottish academics have to say about Sir Walter Scott.

I went inside and signed up, as registration was required. They wanted my name, my address, and my email. I gave them that and was glad they didn’t want my phone number.

I wish I had make-up in my backpack today, as I’ve sweat the makeup off, but it appears that academics here don’t wear much makeup. I guess that means I’m good to go.

It appears to be an older crowd, most grey-headed, except for a couple of us with dyed hair. At 15 till, there are 26 people seated in the room, including myself. … It looks like there are 75 or so folks here as we begin.

I asked permission to drink my water and take notes on my computer during the address. Both of those, they assured me, are allowed.

The president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh is introducing. The RSE was formed in 1873, eight years after the birth of Scott. Scott served for 13 years as the president of RSE.

Dr. Elspeth Jajdelska, English Studies, U of Strathclyde
Sir Walter Scott’s Legacy and the New Science of Reading

Scott, and others, today and think about why he is not as popular as he once was. Example, Sir Walter’s Scott’s Ivanhoe was shortened and recently republished.

What about Scott’s day?
Reading for the plot… “Read the conclusion for the 50th time.” Byron
great descriptions, “as Claude (Village Fete is one of his paintings) L… on skies” Ruskin

history of reading itself
Abigail Williams, Leah Price—both worked on anthologies in the 19th C, the use of portions of writings instead of the whole thing (extracts)

amberg_wilhelm_lecture-from-goethe-value-ago_1870 book reading pd due to ageShared reading, family reading was common.

Folks “dipped into the Waverly Novels” as children…
shared versus silent reading
Showed images of lots of women/girls/children reading together.

performing works dramatically, but for your friends and family at home
no shame in just picking out the good bits
It is part of why the anthologies/extracts were popular.Tihamér_Margitay_Exciting_story 1898 boys reading author life+70 WC pd

What did they get from description?
Ruskin said he liked the descriptions…
But it’s not just like going to a gallery and seeing a picture.

neuroscience… evidence from brain scanning degree to which when we imagine things, we use the same resources as when we see them, taste them, touch them…

movements v action words
performing an action and hearing the words that depict that action

literature can create an embodied experience.
Description potentially can create these rich, embodied experiences.

almost literally a picture of the image seen is in the brain (cat research)

are they getting a simulation?
no. It’s complicated.
normal object perception—upside down—They look identical.
But right way round we can tell one of them is frowning evilly.

object agnosia see only facesobject agnosia (see only faces) illness
Face agnosia (see only objects)
While looking for images of these to post, I found a set of lecture notes that more fully develop the non-Scott related ideas the professor presented.
describing faces can mess with the problems
If the victims describe the face of the bad guy, they will have a harder time recognizing the face.
face is stored holistically as a single unit

Rebecca Ivanhoe
“turban of yellow silk suited well with the darkness of her complexion. The brilliancy of her eyes, the superb arch of her eyebrows, her well-formed aquiline nose, her teeth as white as pearl, and the profusion of her sable tresses…” broke the parts of her face into other sensations… brilliance was associated with diamonds… molded nose
Rebecca_Gratz by Thomas Sully 1831 model for Ivanhoe Scott WC pd
Rebecca Gratz was supposedly Scott’s model for Rebecca in Ivanhoe.

sable hair, pearl teeth (doll—Is this relevant? Does someone discuss?)

a sequence of perceptual manipuatlions relying heavily on other sensations

reconstruction and performance, how to reconstruct audience

How can we use this research?
Perhaps re-create Scott’s audiences’ experiences:
shared oral readings of extracts
science as a hook to enter the mind of the past
permission to cherry pick
permission to go slow (over a year to a class)


Gaming the Classroom

by Dr Davis on June 11, 2014

Having had some success with gaming the classroom in my spring 2013 British literature course, my eye was caught by “Why Gamification?” when I was reading a different post on Metawriting.

gamification_learning brain on games

The article begins:

Gamification, the use of game-design elements for a non-game purpose, interests me because I do not want my classes to be about the grade. I want my students to stop obsessing over what will please me enough to give them an A and instead focus on exploring and experimenting. Every semester and every class I find myself adding more elements of gamification to my classes because I believe gamification supports learning by motivating and engaging students and it supports writing development. And there is something about gamification that encourages community and collaboration that a traditional grading structure does not.


Medieval Life

by Dr Davis on June 9, 2014

A Year on a Medieval Farm from is interesting enough, non-medievalist friends posted it on Facebook.

Images help. Here’s May’s:

May Year on a Med Farm from medievalists dot net


Syllabi Trigger Warnings?

by Dr Davis on June 4, 2014

The New York Times posted “Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm,” which addresses the idea of notify students about what hard issues are involved in the readings on the syllabus.

Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder…

The debate has left many academics fuming, saying that professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate. Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace.

Ms. Loverin [a sophomore at Santa Barbara] draws a distinction between alerting students to material that might truly tap into memories of trauma — such as war and torture, since many students at Santa Barbara are veterans — and slapping warning labels on famous literary works, as other advocates of trigger warnings have proposed.

While I have not thought of this specifically before, I would not be opposed to some applications of trigger warnings–especially for post-traumatic stress disorder issues (such as particularly specific descriptions of battle or rape). General, applied to literature warnings, seems a little odd. Gulliver’s Travels is size-ist. Really?

My favorite sentence in the whole article, however, comes from the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: “It is only going to get harder to teach people that there is a real important and serious value to being offended.”


Who Would Win in a Fight?

by Dr Davis on May 17, 2014

Who would win in a fight between William Shakespeare and Elizabeth Russell? The answer is Elizabeth Russell.

How did Elizabeth Russell manage to turn his closest friends and allies against him? Who were her other supporters? And why did they want to put his theatrical company out of business?

Read the whole story. It is fascinating.


Digital Presentations This Semester

by Dr Davis on May 10, 2014

The digital presentations are an important component of the writing classes I teach as they offer the students an opportunity to present information they have gathered (from the research paper for fyc) or created (for the commercial analysis for fyc).

They are also important components in my literature classes where they review what we learned in class (as students present their digital presentations on a work or aspect of a text that we read for class, where the videos serve as a unique review for the comprehensive final exam for British literature) or introduce students to an additional work (Old English Readings). They are rhetorically remixing and composing with a real-world medium.

These digital presentations have always been opportunities for the students to learn new technologies and to master information they have already been exposed to, but this semester, particularly, I have been delighted to see the students’ creativity as they have taken the assignments and used their particular giftings to make them phenomenal.

One of the students in my Old English readings course created all the images for her digital explication of the Harrowing of Hell (an Old English text that she read out of class and was introducing to her classmates). Whoo too!

One student in fyc created the video to parallel her research project out of a series of twenty interviews she filmed with teachers, administrators, and students at her high school alma mater regarding the soon-to-be-implemented school uniform policy. Last semester I had a journalism major who regularly interviews people for a television show and whose final project for Business Writing was a video; while it was good, this freshman project is another level beyond it.

One freshman student’s research was on the various forms of child abuse and the signs of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Her video was particularly poignant, with students commenting on her incredible invocation of pathos through text, images, and sound. I had written in my notes that the music was perfectly aligned—in both rhythm and meaning—for the presentation topic; soon after the presentations were shown I learned that she created and performed the music for her digital presentation.

Digital presentations are a different type of composition and aren’t specifically “writing” as we have known it. These compositions, however, add a strong rhetorical component to the writing classes, allow for introduction and recall of texts for the literature classes, and add the possibility of students showing their creative gifts, in addition to encouraging students to develop the skills to use the types of media they watch and interact with all the time.


Tolkien’s Translation of Beowulf

by Dr Davis on March 20, 2014

Beowulf British library pages taped onto other pages WC pdAccording to PBS, Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf is coming out soon.

It will be released on May 22, along with a series of lectures (presumably Tolkien’s) and (a little oddly to my lights) a Tolkien tale.