Monday, June 11, 2007

A Sign of the State of the Field

Though I'm still fine-tuning* it, I just finished a column-style article on the state of Anglo-Saxon studies for The Heroic Age. Larry Swain has invited several insiders and outsiders of Anglo-Saxon studies to write these pieces, after which time we'll be responding to one another -- kind of like writing really long blog posts and commenting on one another's work. It's an interesting project, and one that I'm glad he invited me to do.

Part of my argument revolves around the lack of Old English in typical undergraduate curricula (and, indeed, grad school curricula), and lo, here comes an article on Shakespeare to make my argument newsworthy. The Gainsville Sun, in an article entitled "Abandoning the Bard" finds that "of the [University of Florida's English] department's 2006 graduates, about 70 percent had taken courses in pre-1800 literature, and most of those had taken a course in Shakespeare." From the medieval perspective, then that means that at least 30% of graduates from the UF English Department have no medieval literature at all. I'd be willing to bet a bottle of mead that most of the remaining 70% have nothing but Shakespeare.

The article quotes R. Allen Shoaf (a well-respected Chaucerian for those not familiar with academic culture) as saying: "Students regularly come to my office lamenting the fact that they cannot take courses in poetry and early literature."** From the Old English perspective, I'd also like to point out that the only two medievalists I noticed on the UF department webpage were Shoaf and James Paxon, making the department far more focused on Middle English. Of course, if they aren't even really offering the classes in Middle English either, I suppose it is irrelevant what sort of resources they have for classes they aren't going to teach anyway.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has been one of the groups keeping the Shakespeare issue in the spotlight, and I can only hope that their recognition that the problem only starts with Shakespeare will lead them to shine the light on medieval studies as well. It would be nice if some groups on the Left took up the cause, too.

Interestingly, the first comment on the ACTA blog seems to be trying to defend the situation, but unintentionally makes the point that UF not only offers an abundance of classes in non-medieval fields, but has entire programs within the Department dedicated to these other subfields.

In any case, I'd be willing to bet that the situation for medieval literature at University of Florida is common; it certainly mirrors the situation at every school with which I've associated.

*By "fine-tuning," I mean I'm cutting out all my long-windedness and unnecessary use of high-falutin' language and theory. What, ME, long-winded and given to use of big words? The devil you say!
**The article also quotes Shoaf in what seems to be an ironic mixing of metaphors in which he talks about mammels feathering their nests, showing once again that you have to be careful about getting too fancy when talking to reporters looking for soundbytes.


  1. Yes, the dearth of Medieval material in Universities is all too true. This was made painfully clear to me as I searched for colleges to attend last september. In my home state of Utah, there are literally NO courses involving learning Old English. Not that anyone expects Utah to be any sort of cultural haven or anything.

  2. You might be happy to hear that at my alma mater Old English is offered:

    Eng 415A.001
    Old English
    3 credits
    MW 1:00-2:15