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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Dark Ages Illuminated at UMass Boston

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Several possible reading choices were discussed during Tuesday’s meeting including: “Beowulf”, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, Sir Thomas Mallory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur”, Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”, Aesop’s Fables, poems by Chaucer, as well as other medieval manuscripts. As much as possible, most of the texts will be read in their Old English and Middle English translations.

Last week saw the initial meeting of the Medieval Studies Reading Group. On Tuesdays from 4-5 p.m., medieval literature is given a closer look as students marvel at the origins and complexities of the English language. No previous experience in medieval studies is required. Anyone can participate or just come to listen.

Overseen by Dr. Alexander Mueller, assistant professor of English, and Dr. Ryan Judkins, postdoctoral teaching fellow, the reading group is meant to give students a way to explore beyond what is traditionally offered in English and history classrooms. This is a group for students who wish to take a more scholarly approach to the subject where the reading list is decided based on student interest.

“Both Ryan and I are really open to what students want to do; it has to be driven by student interest. It will be completely based on what the students are interested in reading so it could be reading some Middle English texts and there are a number of students that want to read Latin, whatever they want to do,” said Mueller.

Mueller’s initial interest in medieval studies was inspired by JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” He later earned a Ph.D. minor in medieval studies. Judkins’ passion for the medieval period began when he was a freshman in college. He took a survey course taught by a medievalist and found the topic fascinating.

Several possible reading choices were discussed during Tuesday’s meeting including: “Beowulf”, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, Sir Thomas Mallory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur”, Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”, Aesop’s Fables, poems by Chaucer, as well as other medieval manuscripts. As much as possible, most of the texts will be read in their Old English and Middle English translations.

The medieval period, from 500-1500 C.E., is often referred to as the “Dark Ages” by people who believe that this time was one of decline in European civilization.

“We often think of the Medieval as something that’s dark, something that’s distant, something that’s dirty,” says Judkins. “Most of our understanding of medieval culture actually comes from a late Victorian perspective, and we find that when we look at actual medieval culture that our misconceptions about the past are just that, misconceptions.”

When asked why it is important to study medieval literature, Mueller emphasized that in order to understand linguistic changes, it is important to study English’s roots. “You often hear people getting very concerned about the fate of English but if you look at history, these kinds of changes often can’t be prevented. It may not be all that desirable to try to prevent them because often linguistic change is very positive.”

Judkins also understands that in order to see what language will become, it is important to explore where it came from. “What we find by reading medieval texts is that we have a great deal in common with people in England a thousand or more years ago, and no matter how many millennia have passed, people are still people. We can see from their perspective, and studying medieval literature helps us to do those things.”