I blame Gerald of Wales

There’s lecturing with a blackboard. There’s lecturing with slides. There’s group work and conversation and problem solving and Reacting to the Past. And then there’s the end of the party, when everyone else is putting on jackets and thanking the hosts, when you become the guy who just has to show everyone one last hilarious internet video. That was me, maybe, outsmarted by a smart classroom.

Here’s a key moment from last night’s frenzy.

For those of you trapped in a tomb since 1960, some lyrics:

The rain may never fall till after sundown.

By eight, the morning fog must disappear.

In short, there’s simply not

A more congenial spot

For happily-ever-aftering than here

In Camelot.

It is so relevant! It’s not just a chance to introduce students to one of Wales’ more famous sons/worst singers. It is that, of course, but it’s also this: use it to talk about the Messianic Arthur of the Welsh, the hopes of the return of the quondam et futurus rex whose law is the best law for all Britain, whose return promises a world, human and non-, of obedient subjects, so unlike the horridos Kambriae, the “wild Wales” of the present. Then gesture towards the much-reviled Henry II “discovering” Arthur and Guinevere’s bones at Glastonbury, and finally spring into Gerald of Wales’ own peculiar relationship to the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth (Journey through Wales I.5) and his conflicted hopes for Wales.

That’s but the slightest soupçon of what last night’s students got served. Again, I blame Gerald, and again. (I also blame Jeffrey for making Gerald so delightful). If you’re reading this blog, you probably know Gerald, and you know his wunderkammer aesthetic. Like Gervase of Tilbury, William of Malmesbury, Ralph of Coggeshall, William of Newburgh, and (keep going?), Gerald’s another twelfth-century British wonder-collector. His crusader tour can’t take two steps without acquiring another story; and neither could I, except what I was preaching was “the Middle Ages” and my “Wild Wales” is the Internet.

For some evidence, if you like, see below. Or skip it. I’d just as soon hear from you about times in the classroom where your zeal for sharing and for keeping a class hopping became a public, and therefore worse, version of any private internet binge. How do you keep it under control?

Because this is the danger of screens in classrooms! Not distracted students, but manic professors. Not Facebook, but archive.org and flickr and the British Library.

So! Here’s a very small selection of what I thought I needed for Gerald. Use what you can.

  • Bruce Holsinger’s post on Uterine Vellum, to start the class with a shock, and a promise of learning more Middle English (“3if þou wilte make letters on abortiue or bortiue, lai þi oile also þynne þeron als þou may.”)
  • Welsh Phrases, for a sense of twelfth-century British linguistic diversity. Be sure to start here though.
  • Siân Echard’s extraordinary Medieval Welsh Poetry page, with generous samples, translations, and links to manuscripts.
  • An excerpt from Eric Rohmer’s Perceval le Gallois, for the spread of idea of the Welsh as fools.
  • Gerald of Wales’ autobiography (warning, a large PDF, but a useful one), page 53, for the astonishing story, worthy of Sergio Leone, of Archdeacon Gerald and a Bishop facing off, each threatening to excommunicate the other. It’s such a fine introduction to Gerald’s theatrical self-promotion and professional ambition, and as fine a way to break apart students’ sense of the medieval church as monolithic.
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