… or a term, anyway. My foreign students are going home this week, so today was my (somewhat rushed) last session with them.
One of the things I think about a lot is how many opportunities I had when I was an undergraduate and how I failed to take advantage of them. There were so many resources, so many great teachers, available to me, but I didn’t take the chances, partly because of a lack of confidence and partly because at the time I didn’t really know what I wanted to focus on.
I feel a little bit the same way about each year of teaching. Every year I think of a bunch of new things I could do, and every year I feel like both my knowledge and my lesson plans improve — but then I feel guilty because I wasn’t able to apply that new knowledge to the previous year.
Not that I think I did badly — I’m just very conscious that this the students’ one chance to go through my class and therefore I want it to be as good as it can.
Now that that’s over, though, we should be back to some proper historical curiosities from Friday — hopefully, at least.
I have been away over the weekend, and I’ve been sufficiently busy that I have not found much to write about. I saw some nice late-medieval/Renaissance buildings while I was running around, but I was doing too much running around to really think about them or even take a lot of pictures.
The end of term is approaching for my history students (they go back to their parent school for a few weeks), and I’m just finishing up marking here. I always end each year with a feeling of … hopelessness. Given the limits of my time, my resources and my abilities, I always feel like I’ve only begun to make a dent. Some subjects may make sense to teach in a particular sequence, but funnily enough history isn’t really one of them, and I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve left my students with much more than a glancing familiarity with the topic.
I don’t know what else I can do, though; I suppose they know a little more than last year’s bunch.
It’s been a busy few weeks, and I don’t have a brainy thing to say at the moment. I have started in on some of the history podcasts, which are making me think about how I learn and recollect stuff. I’m sure I’m missing a lot, because I only listen when I’m doing something else, which means that my attention periodically gets distracted. Unlike a book, however, the podcast just keeps going, so when my mind snaps back to (at least partly) paying attention to it, I’ve probably missed some things.
However, the result so far seems to be that I’m learning the kind of bits and pieces that I know about most periods of history. And honestly, most of the time that’s what I wind up using, either as setting detail in a game, an illustrative quote in a lesson or whatever. So I would say that they’re working as intended, although one of these days I am still going to sit down and read up on one or two of these subjects. Whenever I get the chance.
As it happens, I thought the finale was not too bad. It was fun to see Ragnar and Rollo go Full Anime, no matter how silly, and it reinforced one of my favourite themes, which is that numbers and tech tend to beat a straight-ahead attack full of spirit and vigour.
But obviously the big news is the last chunk of the series, which does something that Vikings has done a few times already, leaping forward a few years to catch up with the next phase of the saga. Ragnar’s sons are already grown up and ready to take their place as the main characters of the story, which is sort of the idea, after all.
Now, this is all well and good — Older Ivar is particularly enjoyable — but there’s a risk that this can be a problem in a show where “unfocused” is already the major criticism. They sort of seem to know that — look at the last few episodes, where they killed off Yidu, Erlandr, Odo, Young Siggy and probably some other characters that no living human gave a shit about. The trend continues in this episode with the strangling of Baron Whatsisname and his sister, Lady Who Cares. It’s not that those characters couldn’t have been interesting, it’s that they never really got the chance to be more than generic politico-sexual intriguers like every other character who got unceremoniously swept off the board this season.
Now, on the one hand I approve of this narrative streamlining. On the other hand, this show’s fixation on violence in the Viking age has somehow missed the idea of a blood feud, which is not only a great source of violence and a threat to social cohesion but also the reason why you don’t do this kind of thing. Every episode asks us to believe that there is someone who has ascended to high social rank without having even one powerful ally, heavily-armed relative, incriminating secret or other reason that you wouldn’t just straight-up murder them. And this is how people think politics worked back in the day, is it? A series of sterile intrigues at the court of a ruler who can just have you stabbed up any time he feels like it without consequence?
I’m skeptical. And I think it’s ever so slightly cheating for the show to draw conclusions to plots starting on premises that are based on its own sense of narrative economy. It’s as if the detectives in a cop show knew that there were only seven or eight people in New York in any given week.
That shots with the boat was cute, once again reinforcing my belief that this show looks better than it thinks. Still, this at least suggested that something interesting might be happening, which would be a nice change from the housekeeping of the first half of the season.