Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Karen Moranski

Please post question for Karen Moranski by replying to this post.


azini2 said...

What lessons from Medieval times can be applied to contemporary society?

Knestle2 said...

How did your studies of Medieval literature effect how you view interdisciplinary writing and did these studies have any other major effects on your work?

Karen Moranski said...

I really like the question that azini2 asked about how lessons from medieval times apply to contemporary society. One of the things I always do in medieval classes is talk about the relevance to today, precisely because that seems to be a problem. Medieval times are soooo far away from ours, and we really think we can't relate to them, but it's surprising how much applies. Let me give you two examples.

Christine de Pisan was a writer in Paris in the early 1400s. She was the first western woman to make her living from writing. Her husband died young and she had to support herself, her children, and her mother. In those days, to make money, you found royal patrons and they paid you to write for them. She wrote lots of poetry and treatises and she engaged in a public debate with male writers about a very famous text, called the Romance of the Rose, that was really denigrating to women. Her own treatises offer loads of advice to women about how to be strong in a society governed by men, how to take care of themselves financially and emotionally, and how to find value in their roles in society. When students read this text, they very often find that Christine's experience as a single working mom resonates strongly with modern experiences and that her texts have modern relevance for women trying to negotiate multiple roles in a complex society in which women are still paid less for their work than are men.

Another example comes from How Do You Know. For three years, we taught that course on the Middle East, and we read a book called Holy War by Karen Armstrong. Armstrong's thesis is that the Crusades of the Middle Ages, launched by the Christian west to "recover" the Holy Land from Muslim "infidels" are the cause of much of the tension in the Middle East today. The way the Middle East has become a battleground in a religious war between Jews, Christians, and Muslims has some roots in the first efforts by westerners to try to impose their religion and culture on a foreign land. Armstrong sees strong correlation between all three monotheistic religions in their connections to violent action. The Armstrong book is difficult, particularly for students who largely come from a Christian background, and her thesis of a direct correlation between the Crusades and the current Middle Eastern conflict can be argued, but there is at least an analogous relationship between the past and the present in terms of the conflicts between religions.

I hope that helps you see the relationships.

Best, KM

Karen Moranski said...

Hi knestle2,
Thanks for your question about medieval literature and interdisciplinary writing. It's a very good question--I would have liked to be able to say more last week.

I came to medieval literature with the idea that it was site for interdisciplinary inquiry, but in grad school, I didn't learn how to write in an interdisciplinary fashion--at least not until my dissertation, when I really had to do it on my own. Wish I'd had what you guys are getting in CAP--I'd have been a much better integrative writer. I really learned how to be a multi-disciplinarian (lots of discrete disciplines that I had to figure out how to integrate). I did learn, however, how important it is to know about more than just literature to be able to understand the Middle Ages. I need to know about art and music and religion and history and even medieval ideas of science (Chaucer knew lots about rudimentary astronomy). The idea that you should always look at cultural issues from an interdisciplinary perspective is an idea I took from graduate school into my teaching in CAP.

When I started teaching CAP111 and CAP121, graduate school was in some ways a negative influence, which may surprise you. That is, I wanted to teach my students a better way of integrating the disciplines than I had learned in grad school. I have learned A LOT about interdisciplinarity and integration in teaching for CAP. I've learned that you can't expect students to just magically be able to integrate different points of view--you have to show them how to do it. I've learned that in writing a paper, you sometimes have to talk about the disciplines separately, but you always have to talk about ways in which they overlap and intersect--how they relate to one another. I've learned that sometimes you come up with something entirely new (that's what Brian Gillis was talking about when he talked about transdisciplinarity).

Hope that answers your question. I'm happy to talk more.


azini2 said...

I always wondered what sparked the conflict in the middle east, and I honestly never would have guessed the Crusades. How does the Christian church justify the crusades, and if they don't, do they just ignore it?