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Teaching Spotlight : Professor Johanna Kramer, March 2014

Energetic, youthful, admired by her students, Professor Johanna Kramer is our guest for the month of March.

JohannaPhoto

Professor Kramer, please, tell us about yourself.

I am an assistant professor in the English Department. My area of specialization is Anglo-Saxon literature and culture. In my research I am most interested in Old English religious literature, especially homilies and saints’ lives, the transmission of patristic theology into vernacular poetry and prose, and popular religious texts and practices.

My first book, Between Earth and Heaven: Liminality and the Ascension of Christ in Anglo-Saxon Literature, a study of the ways in which the theology of the Ascension is taught and visualized in a wide range of Anglo-Saxon texts, will be published at the end of March by Manchester University Press.

 

At MU, I teach classes that concern the early Middle Ages, Anglo-Saxon England, and the history of English, for example, Women in the Early Middle Ages, World of the Vikings, Introduction to Old English, and History of the English Language as well as graduate seminars on various topics in Anglo-Saxon and other medieval literature.

How did you incorporate Special Collections into your teaching?

I take almost all of my undergraduate classes for visits to Special Collections. I take my students so that they can have at least minimal exposure to actual medieval materials. I want them to see what different types of medieval manuscripts look like (liturgical, biblical, philosophical, etc.), get a basic sense of manuscript production (both codicology and paleography), and recognize different writing surfaces (papyrus, parchment, even clay). Since I teach in an area—medieval literature—in which primary sources in their original form are not very accessible to students, showing them some of the wonderful materials we have at SC is a small way in which I can have students share the same space and even get in physical contact with manuscripts that were produced a thousand or more years ago. This way, students also become more alert to the fact that the original formats in which we find texts are radically different from the neatly edited and translated versions that students read in class. Aside from seeing what various medieval codices and scripts look like, students get the opportunity to see some of the beautiful illuminations and other depictions that accompany texts, be it a whimsical decoration of an initial, a miniature showing a biblical scene (like the Ascension at the opening of Acts), or a woodcut in an early printed book (like the cityscape of Nürnberg).

What outcomes resulted from your class visits? What were the effects on your students?

Students are typically blown away by what they see. The immediate encounter with medieval manuscripts really opens up their perspective of what “a book” is or looks like. Students tend to be especially intrigued by items that get them close to the human side of manuscript production. Thus, for example, many students love the notarial registry (La Turade), a well worn, leather-bound notebook with lots of professional notarial entries in varying scripts made at different times. Students may have a sense of elaborately decorated medieval manuscript, but the quotidian nature of an item like this registry is exciting on a different level and connects students on a more human level across a vast gap in time to the individuals who were originally writing these texts. Similarly, therefore, they love seeing marginal notes or little pointing hands drawn in the margins of manuscripts where medieval readers took note of remarkable passages (which makes students think twice about what they might write into the margins of their own books!). Another aspect that always impresses students is the sheer materiality of manuscripts. Seeing hair follicles and the remnants of veins in parchment, feeling parchment—both the silky, paper-thin kind and the thick, rough, and stiff kind—noting holes in the parchment, all of these aspects speak to the physical nature of the making of a book and the “live” origins of its component parts.

Johanna Kramer and children, January 2014

What advice would you give to faculty or instructors interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

There might be some hesitation to take a class to SC when an instructor does not expect the students to do a particular project or use specific holdings. In my view, there is always a benefit of taking students, whether a research project follows or not. Exposing students to resources that are unfamiliar to them is a valuable service we provide through our teaching. Equally, in my classroom instruction, I introduce students to select scholarship in my field, whether they end up incorporating it in a paper or not. Just knowing that this kind of scholarship exists and knowing that one could be interested in it and get excited about it is worthwhile demonstrating to our students. It’s part of our responsibility as teachers and scholars to model such interest and excitement for our students, and we can do that by showing them the widest possible range of resources, including the wonders of SC.

 

 

Posted in Classes, Learning through Special Collections, Special Collections, Spotlight, Teaching with rare books

Teaching Spotlight, February 2014: Rebecca Mouser

 

Dr. Rebecca Mouser, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English is our guest for the Teaching Spotlight this month.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Rebecca

I am a postdoctoral fellow in the English department. My research focuses primarily on oral tradition in the Middle Ages; my recent dissertation explores oral tradition in the fourteenth-century alliterative romances such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Morte Arthure. Outside of my studies, I mostly spend my time with my two dogs, Isabelle (a Boxer) and Hermann (a German Shepherd).

dog

While at MU, I have taught several literature courses, including English 1210 (Introduction to British Literature), English 2100 (Writing about Literature), English 3200 (British Literature: Beginnings to 1784), and English 4210 (Medieval Literature: The Age of Chaucer).

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Chaucer's Boece, Fragmenta Manuscripta # 150,

In each of these courses, I stress the material culture of the various time periods as well as the historical and literary culture. We often discuss oral tradition and the development of literary texts. My hope is that students can see that the text goes beyond the page, and that the artifacts that survive can help us to interpret that larger text.

 

What materials or collections did your students work with?

 

My students usually view and work with a variety of manuscripts from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries. We discuss the development of various writing materials such as parchment as well as the various inks used. The manuscripts are both individual leaves of parchment and codices. I tend to bring my students to view the material culture of the Middle Ages (pre-16th century).

 

What outcomes resulted from you class visits? What were the effects on your students?

 

During my last visit to Special Collections, my students composed essays about the experience. Many of them stated that seeing the actual manuscripts helped them to conceptualize the Middle Ages as an actual place in time rather than an abstract idea of pastness. They really enjoyed learning about various ingredients used for ink as well. One student in particular chose a final writing project where she could work with digital manuscript images in her exploration of the idea of “fate” in Chaucer’s works. Overall, most of my students are excited about the experience and express the desire to return at some point on their own.

 

What advice would you give to colleagues interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

 

I think that the most important advice I would have is to take students to Special Collections, even if you are not yet sure of what you hope they will discover. The librarians are extremely helpful in setting up the session, providing ideas for what materials to view as well as brainstorming assignments. I always provide my syllabus before the session to help them to cater to my class. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Classes, Special Collections, Spotlight

Teacher spotlight: December 2012— Dr. James Terry, Art History professor from Stephens College

Today our guest in Teacher Spotlight is Dr. James Terry, professor of Art History at Stephens College. Professor Terry regularly brings his Renaissance and Baroque class to Special Collections. We were delighted when he agreed to step into our Spotlight today. We’ve queried him about his teaching philosophy, inspirations, academic interests, and put to him our standard question about the way he incorporates Special Collections into his teaching. Here is his response:

James Terry. Art History class

I like to get my art history students out of the classroom as often as I can–whether that’s a visit to the MU Museum, the local mosque, the Christopher Wren church in Fulton, or an artist’s studio, art gallery or exhibition. A visit to Special Collections at Ellis Library is always a highlight for the students in my Renaissance and Baroque Art course at Stephens College.

Most of them have never handled a 500-year old book–or any fine, handmade, pre-industrial object. It puts them in touch with the material (quite literally). Of course, they are amazed by the engravings and woodcuts, and even the quality of the paper and bindings. I expect that many of them had never considered the possibility that a book can also be a work of art–but they certainly understood that by the end of our recent visit.

Students today spend so much time looking at digitized *pictures* of things, but they don’t have nearly enough experience interacting with real objects.

I would recommend that all college instructors–whether in the humanities, sciences, business or whatever–visit Special Collections at Ellis and find out what treasures the library holds that might relate to your field. Then find a way to get your students over for a visit.  All librarians in Special Collections are very generous and accommodating, and will work with you to set up an eye-opening experience for your students.

 

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Teacher Spotlight: September 2012 Edition – Dr. Rabia Gregory

Dr. Rabia Gregory, an assistant professor in the Religious Studies department at the University of Missouri, is the focus of the first Teacher Spotlight of the new school year.  Her primary interest is in medieval women’s religious literature, and she can often be found teaching courses at Mizzou on Historical Christianity, and Women and Religions.  Dr. Gregory is a frequent visitor to Special Collections and has often brought her classes to learn about the primary sources we have here.  We were pleased to get a chance to talk to her at the beginning of the semester.

SC: How have you incorporated Special Collections into your teaching?

Gregory: I initially only took upper-level and graduate seminars to Special Collections and designed the visits to help students learn to work with sources in the original. Last spring I attempted to bring a large introductory lecture course to Special Collections.  I designed a new assignment asking the undergraduates to spend time with a manuscript or an early printed book and then write about it as if they were, themselves, professional historians.

SC: What sort of outcomes or effects on your students have you observed after visiting the Special Collections department?

Gregory: I noticed a variety of responses, particularly with the large lecture class. Some students were so excited that they snapped photos of manuscripts to share with old teachers or with family members. Others came back to visit with friends and classmates. And some were completely disinterested, trying to sneak out of the room even before class was over. Learning how books were made and used really changed the ways that my class responded to primary sources in translation. They less frequently asked "why" different sources offered competing versions of history or why miracles were recorded. Instead they were interested in why those versions of history had been considered important enough to put into something so expensive and time-consuming as a manuscript.

SC: What advice would you give to faculty or instructors interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

Gregory: Plan ahead, make sure that the visit has a clear pedagogic purpose for your class and that the students have a way of finding meaning from the objects they will (most likely) not be able to read. Do talk with the Special Collections staff and get their input on the assignments, a semester in advance if you can! And make sure that you explain clearly to your students and teaching assistants the purpose of the assignment.

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Posted in Classes, Special Collections, Spotlight

Calling All Instructors: Bring Your Class to Special Collections!

Student from Sean Franzel's class doing research in Special CollectionsAs part of a class session in Special Collections, your students will have hands-on access to the most inspiring and intriguing materials the Libraries have to offer. They will learn research skills that go beyond databases – the ability to track down sources, make connections among documents, and read the content of the page alongside physical evidence. Most importantly, they will discover an enthusiasm and engagement with their subject that will take their studies far beyond their textbooks.

What can we do for you?

  • Orientations to books, microforms, etc.
  • Course-specific presentations (your classroom or our reading room)
  • Individual research consultations (for you and your students!)
  • Help with assignment development

The collections are diverse, and we can accommodate a wide variety of disciplines.  In 2011-2012, class visits included groups ranging from Engineering to English.  Browse our spotlight to see the innovative ways your colleagues are taking advantage of our collections and services!

We’re here to help. Email SpecialCollections@missouri.edu or call (573) 882-0076 to schedule a session for your class.

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