Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Help from Medievalists, Please!

I'll be teaching The Canterbury Tales for the first time in a couple of years in spring, and once again, I'd like to ask the real medievalists out there for some suggestions for reading over break.

What one or two newish books (or articles) should I read to help me prepare again?  What's the latest and coolest Chaucer stuff I should look at?

I was thinking of Kolve's Telling Images: Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative II.  But I may be biased.

Thanks in advance for your help.

One other thing: there's a post phud person teaching some comp classes here (and I assume, being on the market) who's a medievalist but not had a chance to actually teach any Chaucer.  So, I've invited hir to teach a class or a tale (hir preference).    I thought I'd also try to mentor a bit re setting up a CT course.  What should I think about specifically to help hir gain some experience?

Thanks again!


  1. See, I was feeling so great about myself for reading the actual books I'll be teaching in the spring. I didn't even get to the next step about reading scholarship (besides introductions and critical material in the back of the book)! Of course, the humanities texts are for a gen-ed class, so I guess I don't need to go the extra mile when I'm already drowning in work there. (See how humanities is making me a worse teacher? It's humiliating and awful to contemplate.)

    I have no advice about Chaucer. It's great that you're giving a post-doc a chance to teach his/her field, though. I'm guessing that's rare, as it appears that many post-docs these days are glorified adjuncts. :(

  2. The single most important thing to think about, IMO, is how much you want to stress the original language. Some very significant Chaucerians have (or claimed at a New Chaucer Society meeting I attended to have) given up on teaching ME; they teach in translation and go for coverage, the big arc of the Tales and how they fit together. My own preference is to go the other way: I teach ME almost as a foreign language, with dialogues to be read aloud, writing in ME, translations, and much less "coverage." For me, Chaucer is all about the language; remove the language and you have a batch of stories that are either unsavory or tedious, or both. It's all in the word choices.

    No matter what, you're giving up something. My argument is that it's good for students to increase their vocabulary, their grasp of grammar, and their understanding of how poetry works, and I'm willing to sacrifice some notion of "what an English major should know" in order to get there. If your department cares about majors knowing the plot of the NPT, that's something to consider.

    If this isn't a course just for majors, then that's another kettle of fish. I would recommend a facing-page translation, at least, so that you can keep reminding them of what Chaucer really did say, and maybe tempt a few into greater interest in the weird old language.

    I haven't read any recent books that truly impressed me (mind, I'm not actually a Chaucerian, I just play one at LRU). Kolve's probably as good as any. I still think Wallace's Chaucerian Polity is brilliant, but it's 1997; and Laura Hodges's work on costume is great (and very accessible to students, many of whom find clothes very interesting), but it, too, has been around for awhile now. Probably I'm just behind the times and should wait to see what the real Chaucerians say, and then read that myself.

  3. Regarding what DEH said, in my survey classes I have always taught Chaucer in ME, but I've just switched books for next semester, and it has the GP in translation and the tales in ME, so I'm going to mix it up like that.

    (Note: I'm not even close to being a real medievalist, so I am very interested in the recommendations here, too.)