You know that a department series is a success when students are willing to sidestep going to Commons with their buddies to listen to 14th-century textual analysis.
By the end of junior Julianne Hopkins’s lecture, the first talk this year in the English Department’s CCOWE (Critical and Creative Ongoing Work in English) series, more than a few students expressed interest in re-reading Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.” This work was the focus of Hopkins’s talk, “Social Inversion and Narrative Effectiveness in Chaucer’s ‘Monk’s Tale’ and ‘Nun’s Priest Tale.’”
Beginning this year, the Department of English will be holding an hour-long luncheon and lecture every few weeks from a member of the Bates community, be it a student, faculty member, or alum, about some sort of project they are working on in the field of English.
CCOWE, amusingly pronounced “sea cow,” was riffed and lovingly joked about among the event’s first attendees–mainly in the gleeful pursuit of out-punning one another, naturally–which reflects the successful blend of the intellectual and the enjoyable that characterizes the new series. Besides listening to an intelligent literature-related talk, the hour-long period also includes free pizza and plenty of time to chat informally chat other humanities-minded students, faculty, and staff in Hathorn 104.
Assistant Professor of English Sylvia Frederico approached Hopkins last year to suggest she speak for the series. Hopkins adapted her lecture from the final paper she had written for Federico’s very popular Chaucer course, an exploration of “The Canterbury Tales,” a difficult series of vastly different stories written in Middle English. The lecture was about twenty minutes long and was delivered with as much poise and know-how as any Visiting Professor. Surprisingly, Hopkins was not previously accustomed to speaking in front of a full classroom–about forty people were in attendance in total–for such a long period of time.
“I don’t usually do these things,” Hopkins said. “But I felt like maybe I should push myself and try,” adding that in preparation she printed out several copies of her lecture, ducking into classrooms for twenty-minute chunks of time to practice reading to herself out loud. Much of the challenge in preparing her talk came in pronouncing the Middle English she was quoting. She admitted to spending a day with Federico re-learning the difficult and non-intuitive cadence and pronunciation of these texts.
Following her talk, Hopkins fielded questions from fellow students and staff about her research. This was an especially impressive challenge considering she hasn’t formally studied Chaucer since the end of last April, but she handled the questions with grace. These ranged from asking about the narrative format of the tales she studied to the social context in which Chaucer wrote his works.
Ideally, Hopkins’s preparation and performance of the knowledge she acquired about Chaucer will be useful when she writes her thesis in English next year, a thought that seems slightly daunting to her, and no doubt to most non-seniors. Though she is currently unsure what her thesis’s focus will be, Hopkins agrees that by facing people outside of her paper editors she was able to truly learn how to prepare work for an audience outside of herself and a single professor.
After Hopkins’s inaugural talk, the next speaker is English Professor Cristina Malcolmson, whose talk is entitled “Gender and Divorce in the Age of Shakespeare.” Thus far in the great experiment, it seems as though CCOWE presenters have set out about the task of capturing essences of old texts through fresh, new lenses.
Stay tuned for what’s on tap in the world of the CCOWE series and the humanities, a sea teeming with possibilities to splash around in.