Category: Spotlight

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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

Teaching Spotlight: Ruth Knezevich

knezevichOur popular teaching spotlight series returns this semester with a fresh look at innovative teaching in Special Collections.  This month's featured educator is Ruth Knezevich, an instructor in the English department at Mizzou.

SC: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a doctoral candidate and graduate instructor in the English department. My research focuses largely on in late 18th- and early 19th-century British literature with interests in ballad collections, Scottish Romanticism, and the emergence of “folk” literatures. My dissertation in-progress is on footnotes within ethnographic poetry and novels of this timeframe. When I’m not reading, writing, or teaching, I enjoy spending time outdoors and traveling, especially in and around my native northern Minnesota.

At MU, I’ve taught a handful of literature-based courses, including English 1000H (Honors Exposition), English 1210 (Introduction to British Literature), English 2100 (Writing About Literature), English 2159 (Introduction to World Literature), and English 3200 (Survey of British Literature, Beginnings through 1784).

In each of these courses – in addition to teaching critical thinking and reading skills – I like to show students that there are more ways to read a book than breaking down the words on the page, and that there is more to literature than just reading a book and looking at the arrangement of words on a page – each book holds a story of the world around it and the readers who have picked it up, read it, and written in it.

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

Each semester, I ensure that I bring my classes to visit Special Collections and spend time learning about various aspects of printing history, reading a book as more than just literature, and letting students get their hands on the materials. And frankly, Rare Books and Special Collections adds variety to times in the semester where we’re all feeling a little bogged down and need a new and exciting way to approach the text.

One semester, I brought my students in Survey of British Literature to Special Collections as a way to break up the monotony of our class discussion on Renaissance poetry. Alla and Kelli brought out a variety of publications and objects featuring the same poems and authors we were reading in class; students were encouraged to dive into reading the primary materials in their original context, outside of the anthology we were using in class. Suddenly, Ben Jonson and Amelia Lanyer came to life for students as they struggled through the centuries-old typography.

I have also asked my honors composition students to actively read selected from Special Collections as objects, carefully analyzing and writing about their thoughts and findings. Students were asked to choose one of the manuscripts or objects that were displayed during our class’s visit to Rare Books and Special Collections, and to spend time with it again outside of class, asking questions of the object, analyzing it, and drawing inferences from their observations of details they might otherwise overlook and then inferring how the book would have been used and who might have used it.

SC: What materials or collections did your students work with?

The various classes I have brought to Special Collections have worked with a wide array of materials and collections, including 19th-century travel writing, publications of Renaissance-era poetry, 18th-century editions of Homer, different antique versions of the Bible, and 16th-century documents addressing the politics of magic and religion.

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

In addition to submitting some rich essays from the students detailing their findings from their assignments based on Special Collections, students consistently walk away from their visit in awe, inspired to discover what else is held in Special Collections.

One specific moment that will remain with me is when tears began welling up in one student’s eyes as she held an 800-year-old book. “I’m a part of this book’s history now,” she whispered to a classmate standing next to her. Another student, a college senior, said that the days spent in Rare Books and Special Collections were the highlights of her time in college, and that it was a shame that she was just learning about one of MU’s most exciting resources right as she was about to graduate.

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

When I set aside a day for my class in Special Collections, I often don’t yet know exactly what I want my students to explore. The librarians have consistently helped me figure out the aims and goals of the day’s visit, suggested specific materials, provided samples for follow-up assignments, and offered to lead lectures for the class on topics related to the course.

For instance, I recently taught a unit on Christopher Marlowe’s play, Doctor Faustus, and I had asked the librarians to pull some resources that could be relevant and helpful in exploring the politics of magic and religion expressed in the play. Little did I know that Alla is actually an expert in Renaissance magic! My students were able to get so much more out of the library session than they ever imagined, and more than I could ever offer.

So, the biggest piece of advice that I would give to colleagues interested in using Special Collections in their courses is to use it! The staff in Special Collections is immensely helpful in putting together a productive and exciting day with demonstrations of the materials and offering suggestions for follow-up assignments.

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Posted in Rare Book Collection, Special Collections, Spotlight
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