The assignment below supports our ongoing efforts to promote instructors’ use of the Medieval Institute’s sites for pedagogical purposes. Maj-Britt Frenze graciously shared this sample from her course on Tolkien’s Mythologies and Monsters. The first sample assignment can be found here, and the original discussion of the Medieval Undergraduate Research page can be found here.
Extra Credit Blog Instructions:
For up to 5 points added to their final grade, students may compose a blog (c. 500 words) based on content from the course. Students may adapt an existing project from the course into blog formatting or compose entirely new material.
Students will receive 2 points on their final grade merely for completing the assignment, and up to 5 points for truly excellent work which can be published on the Notre Dame medievalist website for undergraduate research.
Blog content may be based solely on one or more medieval texts, may compare a medieval text with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (or another fantasy author, if the student prefers), or may compare a medieval text with a modern film. [Potential questions to answer in your blog: How is this medieval text reimagined in a modern context? Why might any alterations have been made to the original story? What aspects of medieval works are still familiar and present in modern literature and film? Why are medieval themes so popular in story-telling today?]
The Blog posts will be graded on:
Originality of Content: Did the student compose something new and exciting that delves deeply into a text/material?
Careful and thorough use of source(s): Does the student incorporate a few short quotations from a medieval text? Does the student refer to movie scenes, etc, clearly so the audience can follow the student’s argument?
Style: Does the student write in a clear manner? Has the student carefully proofread the piece?
Aesthetics: Did the student incorporate appropriate images and conform to any copyright restrictions? Does the design of the blog look appealing?
Karrie Fuller, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame/St. Mary’s College
In light of my recent introduction to the Medieval Undergraduate Research site as a useful pedagogical tool here, I thought it might be helpful for some instructors to see a few additional sample assignments in current use. Pasted below is the prompt I am testing out this semester in my upper division Canterbury Tales course, which, based on the drafts I’ve seen so far, is likely to produce successful results. A second sample written by Maj-Britt Frenze and designed as an extra credit project will follow soon.
I intentionally wrote the assignment below to be easily adapted for many kinds of courses. Please feel free to borrow and/or modify it for your own use. This assignment could also work for graduate courses (see my rationale on how important it is for grad students to build online, public profiles here).
Blog Post Assignment
[Note: This assignment has two due dates, one for a draft, and another for a revised version. Because students’ work will be available online for anyone to see, I want them put out their best, carefully revised work.]
Length: 750-1000 words
For this assignment, you will be writing in a digital genre for a real audience of academic and public readers. Your work will be published online at the Medieval Institute’s Medieval Undergraduate Research site (http://sites.nd.edu/medievalundergrads/).
Your topic should introduce and interpret a text (or, alternatively, a manuscript of the text) from the course calendar. Choose one that you have not yet written about and that you do not plan to write about for your final essay. This is a short piece, you want your topic to be specific, i.e.—one character in a tale, a particular setting, theme, image, etc.
The point of this assignment is to learn what can be accomplished in a particular digital genre as opposed to a traditional academic essay. The following requirements are intended to get you thinking about how to present your work effectively using a technological platform, or, rather, how to craft your ideas with a slightly different set of tools. Your blog post must, therefore:
Make a connection between the medieval text and the modern world in a way that demonstrates its relevance to the modern reader (connections to pop culture, tv, film, books, social media, news, etc., all work well). Why should your readers care about what they might see as an old, dusty, out-of-touch narrative?
Use multimedia intentionally and thoughtfully. Don’t just plop some pictures in and move on. Any pictures, videos, memes, etc., need to be on topic, integrated into the post, and add real value to the point you are making. If you use manuscript images, be sure the images are not copyrighted, or else let me know so that we can request permissions to publish them. Include photo captions when necessary to identify subject matter and/or cite the source/owner of the image.
Close read and interpret carefully chosen passages from the text.
Address a wide audience that includes your colleagues and professors, but also your family, friends, and future employees (who will care about your ability to write well!). In other words, don’t assume that your audience has previous knowledge about the text, or that they know the specialized jargon of your discipline. Do write professionally, but accessibly.
Include a Works Cited in MLA format at the end and, if relevant, consider linking to online resources in the body of the post. One advantage of digital genres is that you can insert links to other online academic resources anywhere in your post. Be sure to carefully vet those sources for quality and relevance. Libraries and museums (e.g.––The British Library, The Getty Museum) often have excellent catalogs, blogs, online galleries, and more. Many academics and universities also work on fantastic projects: online editions, facsimiles and images of manuscripts, mapping projects, blogs, etc.
Include a list of 5 tags (keywords about your posts). Blog sites are organized by categories and tags. Your post will be categorized under our course title “Canterbury Tales,” but you will decide the tags for your post. Tags are keywords that identify the subject matter of your work, such as authors, themes, time periods, etc. A user might, for instance, want to click on the “Chaucer” tag to see a listing of all the posts about Chaucer on the site.
Interlink with one or two of your classmate’s posts (in your final draft). Interlinking between posts on a blog site is one way to increase traffic and to highlight the connections between the site’s various entries. These links constitute a form of citation that is not possible in print essays, and they allow you to explore how to use this digital citation method. Thus, when you turn in your first draft, we will workshop the blog posts, and you will be required to make a connection between your work and someone else’s with a link to their post. You can simply write in brackets and bold text [link to X’s post here]. Integrate this connection as smoothly as possible into your text. It should sound like it belongs there, not like you added it because your teacher made you do it.
Jean Gerson was perhaps the most influential religious figure in the fifteenth century, reaching nearly all Western Christendom through his preaching, his teaching, and especially his promulgation of his works to an eager body of readers and listeners. Modern scholars of Gerson have shown how widespread the writings of the French prelate were, reflecting a long-standing scholarly consensus that Gerson spoke, intentionally so, to the minds and hearts of the non-elites of the late medieval West. Gerson’s effectiveness as a religious communicator cannot be denied, yet such a conception strangely still understates his work’s reach and efficacy. Examining the surviving manuscripts in the ducal library of the Dukes of Burgundy, we see that Gerson’s works resonated even with those who personally despised the man.
Gerson had a complicated relationship with the Burgundian Dukes. He first made their acquaintance by helping to expel Duke Philip the Bold’s agents at the French court during the Immaculate Conception controversy in 1388. Gerson’s actions led directly to a loss of Burgundian power in France, a loss which Duke Philip spent much of the 1390s trying to recoup. Philip did not punish Gerson for his past transgressions against Burgundian interests. Instead, Gerson’s part in the Immaculate Conception controversy convinced Philip that he needed this talented theologian in his own camp. The duke offered the lucrative position of dean of St. Donatien’s in Bruges to Gerson, hoping the bountiful benefice would entice the theologian to his party. Gerson accepted the position and went to Bruges in 1399. Installing Gerson in Bruges was a coup for the Burgundians: it removed the most talented of the French theologians from the University of Paris, and it ensnared Gerson within the economic web of Duke Philip. Philip undoubtedly hoped his financial offerings would persuade Gerson to permanently abandon French interests for those of Burgundy.
Gerson’s working relationship with Burgundy changed after the death of Philip the Bold in 1404. The new duke, John the Fearless, despised Gerson. Duke John lacked his father’s willingness to forgive Gerson for his actions against the Burgundians in the 1380s. Near the time of his ascendancy to dukedom, Duke John removed the Saint Donatien ecclesiastical benefice from Gerson’s possession, citing the canons’ dissatisfaction with Gerson’s methods of governing the church. Historians are unclear as to the root cause behind Duke John’s personal animus toward Gerson, suggesting that the duke viewed Gerson as a French loyalist and thus an obstacle to John’s own ambition at the French court. The tension between the two men reached its apex when Gerson personally sought a condemnation of Duke John by the Council of Constance in 1414 for the assassination of his political rival Louis d’Orleans. The council was a gathering of all the most powerful churchmen in the West, and a public condemnation would have been a devastatingly blow to Burgundian political standing in France. Gerson failed in this venture in Constance, ultimately succumbing to the Burgundian delegation at the council. Nevertheless, by 1414, Gerson’s name had become anathema in Burgundian circles, particularly at the Burgundian court.
What is especially striking is that it was at exactly this moment at the height of the Burgundian and Gersonian feud that the works of Gerson entered the Burgundian court through the patronage of the ducal family. A member of the ducal household commissioned a manuscript of Gerson’s Opus Tripartitum around the year 1410 (Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België MS 11133-35). The Opus was a collection of three small treatises addressing the Ten Commandments (De praeceptis Decalogi), confession (De confessione), and death (de arte moriendi). The Opus Tripartitum was a short work, meant to serve as a practical guide to laypeople and less-educated priests on proper methods for handling these weighty religious issues. The treatise was an international best-seller, gaining even more popularity with the advent of printing and becoming one of the most widely published religious works in the fifteenth century. It enjoyed sixteen printings in the fifteenth century, with versions published in Latin, Spanish, Swedish, German, and Flemish.
So, why did the Burgundian ducal family want a copy of the Opus Tripartitum, a piece crafted by one of the household’s most prominent enemies? If they solely sought thorough theological instruction on the contents of the Opus Tripartitum, there were many such other works readily available to them, such as the Guido of Monte Rochen’s Manipulus Curatorum. If the ducal family sought personal religious instruction, they had their own bevy of Parisian-trained theologians to personally oversee their religious lives. Their choice of Gerson’s Opus Tripartitum indicates that the dukes were not seeking sophisticated explanations of these weighty theological concepts. They instead wanted clear, concise instruction on how to approach issues that weighed on the mind of any conscientious Christian at the time. That the dukes of Burgundy patronized Gerson’s Opus in the early years of the fifteenth century, a period characterized by fraught relationships between the Burgundians and the French (and by extension between the Burgundians and Jean Gerson) speaks to the overwhelming efficacy of Gerson’s work.
As the fifteenth century waned, the popularity of Gerson’s writings waxed at the Burgundian court. By the death of the last Valois Duke Charles the Bold in 1476, the dukes possessed at least five manuscripts by Gerson, and most likely had more. Of the surviving ducal library housed in the Royal Library of Belgium (Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België), Gerson authored the largest number of manuscripts in the dukes’ theological holdings. Despite their political rivalry with the cleric, the Dukes recognized the efficacy of Gerson’s writings, and they put political prejudice aside for their own spiritual instruction. His work was simply the best at what it did. Even his enemies would have been remiss to ignore it.
Bernard Guenée, Between Church and State: The Lives of Four French Prelates in the Late Middle Ages trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).
Bernard Guenée, Un Meurtre, Une Société: L’assassinat du Duc d’Orleans 23 Novembre 1407 (Paris: Gaillimard, 1992).
E. Steenberghe, Gerson A Bruges Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique 31, no. 1 (1935): 5-51.