I came out of today's classes feeling really good. I've been behind all quarter, the students have been recalcitrant, to say the least, and I've had to cut content I think is important. Not good. But anyway, today, on our way to the
Song of Roland, I had to tie up a ton of stuff we've fallen behind on and make it fit into a picture that worked. And it did -- the students, with some prodding, were able to recall details from 7th century Germanic laws, Frankish royal genealogy, Muslim invasions, Einhard, fidelity oaths, and Vikings to help me tie it all into an overview of Early Medieval Europe. From there, we talked about the changes from partible inheritance to primogeniture, and a semi-concurrent shift from appointed office to inherited titles replete with land. From there, and the kind of weaker-king, stronger nobles, outside invaders and internal social tensions, we moved on to the dreaded F-word. Except that, this time, it wasn't dreaded. Somehow, this desperate attempt to review and make sense of what we'd been doing made it possible to talk about how there was no F-system, because look at Eastern Francia and how it changes after 911. Nothing like what's going on in the west, right? On the other hand, move forward several generations after that nice document with Rollo and Charles the Simple, and we can see something that looks like a system, because that bastard William takes over England and imposes it from above, more or less. But that's different, isn't it?
The upside is that this went really well. The downside is that it was somewhat serendipitous. It made me realize that I give myself over to the gods of coverage more than I'd like. This quarter, what with teaching an overload and burning out on three sections of the same class, applying for jobs (4 more apps in this week!), serving on a governance committee and trying to keep up with an assessment committee, and still trying to get those bloody reviews finished (and don't ask about the upcoming 19th c. class -- that's a blog for later), I've really focused on concepts and methodology and hitting a few really important themes hard in class, while leaving a lot of the larger discussion to Blackboard. It's not completely satisfying, but there are advantages. It definitely makes me want to rethink some of my approach and exactly why I assign some documents and not others. Typically, it's been the same way most sourcebooks do it -- pick documents from the period and use them to illustrate certain aspects and make them more "real" to the students. Have the students try to use the sources as evidence. I suppose what I realized tonight was that, in the back of my head, I've been tying these things together pretty well, but have probably never articulated the long-term interconnections in a way that sticks. Now that I've articulated it to me, I think I should be able to improve what's already a pretty good set of courses.
Of course, in the car on the way home, I started thinking about the class, and wondered to myself, "How do I know this? Am I just talking out of my ass? I'm sure that I've read, heard assimilated this knowledge before, but I am not able to put my finger on where." I mean, some of this is so basic, and I'm sure comes from a combination of Brown's "Tyranny of a Construct," Reynolds' Fiefs and Vassals, Ganshof, Marc Bloch, etc. But still, it would be nice if it weren't quite so assimilated. This, my friends, is why we need to keep up on our scholarship -- if for no other reason than that we forget things and need to remember not just that we know things, but why we know we know them. Or maybe that's just me and other people who do this for a living don't forget why and how they know stuff?