Thursday, December 16, 2010


I can understand the confusion some people have between Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart. First, they usually get called by nicknames, and second, their lives overlapped a fair bit.

I can also understand confusions people have between the Hundred Years War and the Thirty Years War. Both lasted a long time, and they're both a long time ago.

I can't get my head around my student's confusing the two World Wars of the past century. Now, I could probably understand if this were a sophisticated argument about how the wars and such of the 19th century provided impetus for the Great War, and that WWII was an inevitable result of the resolution of the Great War and so on. But no, this student just conflates them and puts them both in 1918 with Hitler at the head of SS troops and such.

The same student confuses Modernism (as an intellectual and social movement/practice) and modern (as in what's happening now), which I totally understand, but since I've tried to explain that Modernism is a pretty specific movement, and it just hasn't gotten through, I'm finding frustrating. No doubt my own deep sense of the difficulty of really understanding Modernism has gotten in the way.

What are your students' most confusing confusions?


  1. My most irritating confusion is the students who can't grasp, despite repeatedly being told by me and the readings, that Renaissance humanists translated Greek texts into Latin to make them more accessible.

    It's as if they think that Latin = dead language = language you translate things OUT of. Still others just don't seem to grasp that you can read things in a second language. Those ones also confuse transcribing with translating.

    I've even had grad students talk about "translating" documents. I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them, repeating, "you mean reading!" By the time you're a Ph.D. student in European history, you darn well better be reading your sources in the original language. You might need a dictionary at your elbow (or on your computer) for unfamiliar words, but if you have to translate, you might want to rethink what you're doing with your time.

    Sorry, that last paragraph wasn't quite what you asked, but it's a rant that has been building up for some time.

  2. I get irrationally annoyed when students confuse prose and blank verse, but at least I sort of understand where the confusion is coming from. What I don't get at all are the ones who completely mix up literary genres -- the ones who refer to "The Dead" as a poem or The Canterbury Tales as a play, after they have supposedly read these works.

  3. Well, it's not a student one, but I was once on a program committee for a conference on early modern/Renaissance stuff. We got several proposals (from Ph.D. students) who worked early in the modern period. Sigh.

  4. The prose/verse confusion is rampant, even when I explain how you don't even have to bother with meter or anything, you just have to look at whether the right margin is justified or ragged. And the genre thing, too. Everything's a novel, even if it's an essay or a poem. Apparently, if it exists between covers, it's a novel.

    More specifically, I'm guilty of causing a good amount of confusion whenever I mention the Civil War and don't remember to clarify that it's England's I'm talking about and not the one in the U.S.

  5. I once had a student who appeared to believe that the Middle Ages were the period between the first and second World Wars. And one this term who repeatedly referred to "the Middle English Century." Genre confusion is rampant. The Canterbury Tales were both a novel and a play, this time around.

  6. This year, it's been the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Apparently, they're the same thing!

    Also, Paris is apparently located somewhere nearabouts Stalingrad and London can be found not far from Finland. You don't want to know where Prague can appear!

  7. The Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.

    The Romantic Era and the Renaissance.

    Generation X and the Baby Boomers.

    Brahms and Beethoven (and this just about kills me).

  8. One more: sacred and secular. (Apparently Verdi wrote lots of sacred operas.)

  9. richard12:31 PM

    Anywhere in Asia with anywhere in Africa. Yes, really.

  10. I thought of one more: B.C.E. (or B.C.) and "prehistoric."