Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Medieval survey revamp, part 3

Christmas and New Year's were both relatively quiet round these parts. Now I have a little time to sort out upcoming classes, which brings me back to my revamped medieval history survey.

I teach both a medieval and an early modern survey (and, in fact, I'm teaching both in the spring). For some reason, the early modern survey has always been easier for me to teach, even though (or because?) the Middle Ages is really my specialty. It has just always seemed easier to find cohesive themes for the early modern course. I've taught the medieval course something like 10 times, half of them at this institution, and I've made significant changes nearly every time.

I discussed earlier stages of my thoughts on this revamp here and here. Ultimately, I decided to keep the reader I've been using, in combination with another primary source reader and two longer primary sources. (One of these will be the Song of Roland, because it's been too long since I've taught it.) We won't be reading all of either reader, but we'll be reading substantial pieces of both. The textbook is going to become an optional purchase, in the full awareness that most students will, therefore, opt not to purchase it. My hope is that, though I will need to lecture more often, that the lectures will allow me to establish my own narrative more clearly

As for written assignments, I'm planning to include some short skill-building assignments along with a couple of longer essays. I used a very minor research assignment in a fall class that I liked--basically, it requires students to look up something from a day's reading assignment in a few other sources (both print and online), and write up a brief version of what they learned along with an evaluation of the sources they used. Other assignments will focus on close reading of primary sources. I also regularly do a map quiz. A lot of American students know very little about modern European geography, let alone where regions like Burgundy are/were. Grades on the quiz are nearly always bimodal: students who studied get A's, students who didn't do very poorly. Hm, it occurs to me that students who did acquire the textbook may have an advantage since it has maps. I'll give the others a list of atlases to check.