Now that I’m done with the Inquisition Post Mortem, for the chap who died intestate, apparently I can’t face being without some early modern document to decipher. I paid for and downloaded a couple of wills yesterday. They are PDFs, not fabulous quality (not nearly so nice as the IPM, which had not been digitized before, so I was able to get a full-color JPG of it when I requested a copy), but, on the other hand, gratification was instant. And they are in English rather than Latin, so I could use them in a class someday, if I can work out a suitable focus/assignment.
I know I’m supposed to be teaching medieval literature, and I’m sure my colleagues and students expect this to be done in a fairly traditional lit-crit way. After all, that’s what they do. But I keep thinking that my students can get traditional lit-crit from anybody, whereas I can pass on really specialized skills (or at least an appreciation of these) that very few people at LRU can provide. And nice legible edited medieval literary texts don’t just appear by themselves; they’re produced by people with a greater or lesser ability in these specialized skills. I think it’s useful for students of literature to be aware of this. So more and more book history and editing assignments creep into my classes.
And then I wonder if this perpetuates the idea that medieval literature is difficult and inaccessible, and if I should just teach Chaucer as if he were Chandler. I know there are good arguments for doing so, and those of my students who go into teaching will undoubtedly do more or less that. But for me, it goes against the grain. I’d rather say, Look, this is different, and here’s how and why it is different, and here’s how I can help you explore those differences instead of pretending they’re not there.
I mean, where’s the excitement in taking the easy way out?