Going In Blind

Over the summer, I teach at one of those summer programs for foreign students here in Cambridge; it’s interesting work, the students are motivated and energetic and the people who run it are very friendly. I usually teach just one class in July, but this summer I’m also part of the team teaching a history class in August.

Now, the way this works is that there are, I dunno, four or five of us, and we each come in and teach part of the course based on our particular specialist field. Most of the course is focused on modern history; I think I’m the only medievalist. I don’t think that’s a bad thing — to my eye, it looks like they wanted to use history to explain some modern global patterns, which are much easier to connect with, say, the Cold War than they are with the Viking age. Although I could try.

That being the case, though, I have to ask myself what I can bring to the table here. If we’re going to illuminate trends in history that influence the modern day, how do I do that with the early medieval period? I know that I love diving into the minutiae of the period — and I believe that there is actually a lot to be learned there that’s relevant to the modern day. But in the short space of time I have available, another approach seems best. I have three lessons to teach, and these are the topics I’ve chosen:

  • Methods and sources (with particular emphasis on the integration of archaeological sources).
  • The impact of the Vikings on Europe.
  • History and its role in nationalism, the formation of nations, propaganda, art, etc.

I think you can draw pretty sound examples of all of those topics out of my period (although actually my first example in the sources lesson is from the 1st century AD, so a little out of the range).

Anyway, my first class is in a few hours, so I’m going to go and get ready. That’s just what I’m up to at the moment.

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Going In Blind

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