Medieval Institute partners with Adams High School for hands-on medieval history course | News | Notre Dame News

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Adams High School senior Naomi Presler looks at a text on display in Rare Books and Special Collections during a class visit to a senior seminary. (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

The Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame recently welcomed a group of students from John Adams High School in South Bend to campus. The students, five boys and three girls, viewed centuries-old prints and manuscripts in the Hesburgh Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections, as well as sculptures, jewelry and other decorative art and art at the Snite Museum of Art.

This was all part of Why the Middle Ages Matter, a newly designed course intended to introduce local high school students to the Middle Ages – and, by extension, to various methods of historical research – in a way that emphasizes the diversity and dynamism of the period as well as its relevance today.

A collaboration between the Medieval Institute and South Bend Community School Corp. (SBCSC), the course, with a rotating cast of visiting lecturers from the Medieval Institute, covers a range of topics, from empires, religions and cultural encounters to education and governance and literature and culture. In doing so, it emphasizes the innovations of the period that influence life today, from advancements in the arts, culture, economy and governance to the invention of the clock and other mechanical devices and lingering notions of gender, marriage and the role of religion in society.

Thomas Burman, the Robert M. Conway director of the Medieval Institute, designed the course as a way to introduce high school students to the vast expanse of medieval history, Eastern and Western Europe, and the Mediterranean at the intersection of Christian, Islamic and Jewish cultures. The goal: to encourage college-bound students to consider medieval studies as a path to scholarship beyond high school.

Plans are already underway to offer the course again next year, both in the fall and spring semesters and possibly for college credit.

“The Middle Ages are not reserved only for the academicians of the ivory tower. A lot of people are currently fascinated by the Middle Ages as depicted in movies, television, and computer and board games,” Burman said. “We try to capitalize on this interest by exposing secondary school students to both the material remains of this period that Notre Dame has the chance to possess and the incredible array of faculty expertise that the Medieval Institute offers.

Sister Ann Killian, who developed and now leads the course as a postdoctoral fellow in public humanities at the Medieval Institute, said: “We learn about a Middle Ages that is a cultural encounter, a world that stretches from the Middle East to Ireland, a time of technological innovation. The clock, glasses, universities, representative assemblies were invented in the Middle Ages. It is a historical period that is still relevant to our lives and to the world at large.

The course runs five days a week and consists of readings, lectures, and encounters with “material culture,” or the tools, art, buildings, and written materials that surround people and satisfy their needs.

“One of the goals is to introduce students to how history and scholarship work, and to really look at primary sources, which includes material culture,” Sister Killian said. “And Notre Dame has wonderful resources for looking and touching medieval manuscripts and medieval art.”

Adams High School students visit rare books and special collections
Students in a senior seminary class at Adams High School can touch the parchment pages of a medieval book in Rare Books and Special Collections. (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

To this end, students were able to see and even touch a number of medieval artifacts from both Rare Books and Special Collections and Snite.

Highlights included a collection of prayer books dating from the late Middle Ages, on display as part of “The Word Through Time: The Bible in the Middle Ages and Beyond”, the latest exhibition of Rare Books and Collections specials.

“They’re called ‘Books of Hours,'” David T. Gura, curator of ancient and medieval manuscripts at Rare Books and Special Collections, said of the tiny volumes. “They are made to be somehow transported. If you have a pocket, you can put it in. You can wear it.

One of the books, dating from around 1450, included a color illustration of a scene from the Book of Job – part of the prayer cycle known as “The Office for the Dead”.

“What does it look like what is happening in the picture?” Gura asked.

“I see a monk reading a book,” said one student. “I see a bunch of people in the back.”

“Yeah, look at the people in the back,” Gura said. “What are they wearing?”

“They are dressed in black,” said one student.

“Well, they’re wearing all black,” Gura said. “So it’s actually a funeral scene. The people in black aren’t monks. They’re the professional mourners you hire to come to your funeral and cry for you.

The students laughed.

In addition to biblical texts, students saw coins, a Madonna and Child on a gold background, a reliquary bust and other practical and artistic objects from the vast collections of medieval objects in the museum. ‘University.

The students had to hold the coins.

“I’ve never touched anything so old,” marvels one of them.

Students will visit the Basilica of the Sacred Heart later this semester as an example of “medieval architecture.”

“I was amazed,” Betsy Leija, a senior at Adams, said afterwards, noting the age of the objects she and her classmates were able to see and hold. “I had never seen anything so old before.”

As Beckie Hernandez, International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator and Magnetic Facilitator at Adams, noted, it’s one thing to see the story on the page, “but seeing it live and being able to touch it is a whole other thing.” experience”.

She added, “There’s a lot to be said for experiential education, and that’s it.”

Founded in 1946, the Medieval Institute is the oldest and largest center in the United States dedicated to the study and teaching of all aspects of medieval culture. It is the leading institution in the United States for the study of medieval Catholic culture and history, and a distinguished center for research and education on Greek Byzantium, Arab Islam, and the Jewish diaspora.

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