Augsburg News

News Archives - 2004

Augsburg course blends seven disciplines into study of medieval times and culture

February 2004

Thirty-two Augsburg College first-year students are already wearing their graduation robes, but they won’t be participating in graduation ceremonies this coming May. The students are part of an experiment that not only is teaching them about life in medieval times but also is blending seven disciplines into one exciting new cross-curricular program.

The experiment, titled “Medieval Connections,” not only has both exceeded its professors’ broadest expectations, but it soon could serve as a model for other Augsburg courses and for liberal arts institutions across the nation. “When the College embarked on a new General Education Curriculum this academic year, faculty were encouraged to seek ways to present courses that were interdisciplinary in nature,” noted Phil Adamo, assistant professor of history and leader of the new program.

A core group of Augsburg faculty, including Adamo, Kristin Anderson, professor of art, Phil Quanbeck II, professor of religion, Joan Griffin, professor of English, and Merilee Klemp, professor of music, met and put together the basics for the course. Philosophy colleague Bruce Reichenbach, and Darcey Engen, professor of theater joined them, to form the seven disciplines represented by the course itself.

“The key idea that stuck with us is that the University/College that we know today comes out of the 12th Century,” Adamo said. “Faculty and students wore robes somewhat similar to those that they do today, although today, of course, they’re primarily used in ceremonies like graduation.”

The students are both taught and learn in a style reminiscent of the educational experience faced by students from the "High Middle Ages" -- which encompasses the years 1100-1300 AD. To learn in this fashion, both students and faculty attend class garbed in robes -- the faculty members wearing the robes that signify their academic background and highest degree earned; the students wearing the robes that they ultimately will again wear on graduation day. While students do have access to modern learning devices, such as papers and ballpoint pens, they all have to learn from one single book -- a large volume that was "constructed" by the professors in cooperation with art instructor Tara Christopherson, who did the work as a volunteer because she was excited by the project.

Students begin each class with a prayer to the medieval “saint of the day,” preparing prayers and presentations on the saint in teams. Thomas Aquinas, for example, is the patron saint of all students and is one of those selected. There are also long-term projects for each student, and the final class will be a medieval feast where some of them will cook; some will play or sing music; some will juggle; and some will debate – all the kinds of things a student might have done in a big medieval feast of the time.

Each student, as was the tradition of the time, must stand for an oral exam and will be examined by teams of at least two professors. “Our hope,” Adamo said, “is that we’ve been able to convey an array of complex material and make it stick, not only now but throughout the rest of their lives.”