Teaching and Learning via Research Dissemination: “Bridging Disciplines: ‘Medieval and Early Modern Miscere’ from an Undergraduate Student’s Perspective.” By Kenna L. Olsen and Tia Christoffersen


Medieval and Early Modern Miscere:

Teaching and Learning via Research Dissemination

Kenna L. Olsen

A day before the first Medieval and Early Modern Miscere: disrupting disciplines; problematising periodisation of this semester, it feels poignant and necessary to share a student’s thoughts on the different ways we learn at Mount Royal University, in our community, and beyond. Below, you’ll find Tia’s thoughts on the speaker series, the Medieval and Early Modern Miscere, that I’ve been privileged to organize over the last four years. This year, my formidable co-organiser is Dr. David Clemis (@DavidClemis), Early Modern historian extraordinaire (shout out to Dr. Emily Hutchison, @emilyjhutchsion, who has helped in the past!).

The Miscere is a speaker series that began with the goal of supporting inclusivity of knowledge between students and scholars of the early periods in the Arts and Humanities. It supports dissemination of new knowledge and research, and promotes opportunities for creative and critical connections for students and scholars alike. We invite local, national, and international scholars to teach in our classes, and to present their current research and scholarship via public talks.**

Tia’s blog underscores the importance of knowledge sharing, and the importance of creating teaching and learning opportunities beyond our regularly scheduled classroom, by reflecting on two talks from the Fall semester: one that featured Dr. Karim Dharamsi who spoke on Khaldun’s The Muqaddimah, and another that featured Dr. Kenneth F. Duggan, who spoke on 13th century crime in England.

Tia argues that the Miscere offers an important learning opportunity for students. As a professor, I echo Tia’s articulations of the importance of interdisciplinarity in my own work. Research, scholarship, and their dissemination is vital for university learning and teaching. Doing so cultivates creative and critical discourse, and provides important access to knowledge in multiple forms.

**Thank you to the Faculty of Arts Endeavour fund, which generously supports the Medieval and Early Modern Miscere.

Bridging Disciplines: ‘Medieval and Early Modern Miscere’ from an Undergraduate Student’s Perspective

by Tia Christoffersen

Having just completed my Bachelor of Arts degree, the thoughtful reflection on my experience as an undergraduate student has inevitably begun. I have been ruminating on the knowledge I acquired over the years and with that, everything that ostensibly shapes one’s academic experience, such as the structure of my degree, course requirements, and opportunities on campus. Because, like most students, my areas of interest came into clearer focus as I progressed in my degree, I have been paying particular attention to my last couple of years as an English major. I knew in my second year that I was interested in medieval literature so, going forward, I enrolled in as many courses relating to the subject as possible. When I reached my third and fourth years, I was both more eager and more equipped to engage with higher levels of academic material and as a result, entered into these courses with a critical and ambitious mindset. I was determined to absorb a copious amount of new material for my own aims and that I might be able to intersect with what I was learning elsewhere.

Some people may argue that medieval literature, and the study of the medieval period as a whole, is a static field that is not fruitful for interconnection with other disciplines. This notion is simply not true. What I learned in the many medieval literature courses I took was applicable to other English classes as well as to countless other branches of knowledge I encountered in my schooling, such as in general education courses and electives. For instance, how women’s roles in literary culture shifted throughout the medieval period in England supported my understanding of women’s literary production in the early modern period; analyzing themes of environmental sustainability in texts such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight allowed me to deploy my ecocritical understandings in a film theory course; and my knowledge of medieval materiality, including the construction of medieval manuscripts, was incredibly useful in an early art history course. By weaving together different courses’ aims in this way, I was able to deepen my comprehension of a variety of materials and effectively broaden my knowledge.

Interdisciplinarity is usually, in my experience, something reserved for discussion among faculty members and featured at academic conferences, but I want to approach it from the perspective of an undergraduate student. Of course, the topic of interdisciplinarity applies to undergraduate students for a number of reasons; in addition to bolstering students’ learning as I’ve just described, it can apply to research projects and future programs of study. After all, isn’t interdisciplinary learning one reason why universities implement general education requirements?

Due to the organization of undergraduate degrees and the less-than-joyful reality of scheduling, it can often be difficult for students to choose classes that inspire them and allow them to engage in branches of study that intersect with their primary academic interests. This constraint is why I avidly support accessible opportunities for students to explore the expertise available in other areas of study, which is offered through the Medieval and Early Modern Miscere speaker series, organized this year by Dr. David Clemis and Dr. Kenna Olsen. Through the series, scholars are invited to deliver public lectures at Mount Royal University. Medieval and Early Modern Miscere offers a myriad of advantages, including an intellectually stimulating environment for faculty, students, and university alumni to gather and learn, but most pertinent is the engagement with other disciplines that can be attained through the series.

The first lecture in this year’s series, delivered by Dr. Karim Dharamsi, was called “The End of Philosophy: Ibn-Khaldun’s Fourteenth Century Prolegomena to a Science of History and Social Cohesion.” Dharamsi prefaced his lecture by asking who was familiar with or had heard of Khaldun; several professors raised their hands while most students, including myself, did not. He went on to contextualize Khaldun’s many scholarly contributions, stating that Khaldun, who rejected that he was a philosopher, was the first in Arabic tradition to ask questions of historiography, among other original inquiries.

Dharamsi elucidated aspects of Khaldun’s The Muqaddimah, particularly the concept of ‘asabiyya and its significance to the text and Khaldun’s positions. Through a presentational organization that corresponded directly to the natural progression of social cohesion as argued by Khaldun, Dharamsi effectively conveyed Khaldun’s theoretical arguments. Dharamsi explicated ‘asabiyya as referring to the solidarity of a group that shares a common opinion and, according to Khaldun, has a finite life span of three to five generations. Khaldun posits that urbanization inevitably results in the collapse and decay of civilizations, evident both in actual and mythological ruins. In discussing this notion, Dharamsi referred to Khaldun’s concept as “a cycle of decline.”

In part, Dharamsi articulated the relevance of Khaldun to present day understandings of philosophy, metaphysics, and theories of social cohesion. He suggested that present-day white nationalism is a form of ‘asabiyya, as these groups are brought together by a common “goal,” articulating that ‘asabiyya demarcates a social solidarity, not necessarily a moral one.

After this lecture, I was struck by the thematic connections I noticed to my studies of medieval literature. The cyclical decay of civilizations that Khaldun explores is fascinatingly applicable to discussions we had in Dr. Olsen’s “Pluriverse: Medieval Immersive Spaces — Textual Minds, Lexis of Landscapes” course ; the Early English poem The Ruin engages with similar ideas of inevitable societal decay, and this conceptual overlap deepened my understanding of both Dharamsi’s lecture and the text I had previously studied.

Medieval and Early Modern Miscere’s second lecture this year was delivered by Dr. Kenneth F. Duggan, titled “Peasants and Policing in the Middle Ages: How Villages Dealt with Crime in Thirteenth-Century England.” Duggan began his lecture with an anecdote about a thief who was ordered to be hanged and, on the way to the gallows, escaped officials because he was led through a churchyard where he was able to claim sanctuary and then go free. This story served as a captivating point of entry and effectively situated the rest of the lecture.

Duggan traced and problematized systems of law and order in thirteenth century England, drawing on a variety of records and statistics to demonstrate the development of and reactions to these systems within communities. He negotiated the use of the frankpledge system and suggested another system of apprehending criminals was utilized, as well as investigated the positions of marginalized people in these systems, which was particularly interesting.

In his consideration of the frankpledge system, Duggan articulated its cruciality to thirteenth century law and order; he then delineated its foundation on tithing groups, amercements, and reliance on community self-policing. In the frankpledge systems, tithing groups usually consisted of ten men who were obligated to maintain order by apprehending criminals within their tithing group or be financially penalized. However, Duggan noted that this system did not function flawlessly for peacekeeping. Tithing groups were willing to let criminals flee, sometimes on account of personal loyalty and significantly, the participants in this system were minority in number, as many people were excluded, such as lepers, women, knights, disabled people, and clerics.

Duggan then discussed a shift in policing towards the hue and cry system, in which a royal agent must be notified of all unnatural deaths and all suspected criminals must be pursued and apprehended by the community. This system was developed once justices realized that coroners’ records naturally provided a system of checks and balances and it asserted that all people must respond when a hue and cry was raised. Although people still manipulated this system of justice, Duggan argued, it led to an increase in amercements due to its inclusion of more people, especially women.

Having taken very few history courses in my degree, this lecture presented an opportunity to engage with a history of law and order in medieval England that I would not have otherwise received. By attending the Medieval and Early Modern Miscere speaker series, I was able to learn from the knowledge held by scholars in disciplines different than my own and contemplate their lectures alongside the knowledge I have acquired in my studies. Medieval and Early Modern Miscere is an excellent example of how interdisciplinarity can be offered to undergraduate students in an accessible format.