Weekend 9-8-12

This weekend’s treat is Edita Gruberova singing Elizabeth in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. Roberto Devereux and I go back a ways, but I haven’t listened to this opera in ages – rather looking forward to it. It’s one of those ones that I really wish I could see live sometime, just for the hell of it, but I’ve never run across a staging of it that I had any reasonable way of getting to. (It doesn’t seem to be performed as often as Anna Bolena or Maria Stuarda, which is kind of a shame, I think. Although musically I like Anna Bolena better.)

I think I am getting used to the students here. So many of them have this bizarre mixture of genuine brightness and complete ignorance. They can read a primary source and say really insightful things about it, but if you ask them a direct question like “tell me about the Protestant Reformation” or “when was the printing press invented in Europe?” you often get very vague and/or confused answers. I had one kid get confused because I said that the Spanish in the New World were trying to convert the Native Americans to Christianity – he raised his hand and said “but wait, I thought the Spanish were Catholics?” So, I had to explain that Catholicism is in fact a form of Christianity. But I’m glad he asked, at least. Also, there was the student who said in class that Roger Williams had “invented one of the world’s major religions.” The wording of this pretty much required me to ask – which one? Answer: “Presbyterianism.”

So yes. Bright kids who are occasionally missing various important concepts and/or pieces of information. I wonder what they’d make of Roberto Devereux?

14 thoughts on “Weekend 9-8-12

    1. Knowing Williams, if they’d had unitarianism back in his day he would have been one for about ten minutes before changing his mind and moving on to something else.

      Re: that student – later, I realized I should have been glad that she knew who Williams was at all, even if we did have to have a little conversation about what counts as a “world’s major religion.” Teaching moments!


  1. You are in for a treat. It’s a very good recording.

    Also spare a thought for my mediaevalist friend who teaches in parts not unadjacent to you. Not only must she convince her classes that Catholics are indeed Christians but that, in most contexts for her purposes, all Christians were Catholics.


    1. Good point. At least with things after 1600 or so there is usually a thin veneer of familiarity. (Although I have heard one of my colleagues who does the American civil war complain that she wishes they at least would come into her class knowing that said war happened in the middle of the 19th century.)


      1. One wonders what, if anything, some high schools teach. I grew up in England and studied mathematics at university so, as is often the case in that overspecialised system, I stopped the formal study of essentially anything except maths, physics and chemistry at age 15 but somehow seemed to have learned a great deal more in the way of languages, literature and history then seems to be typically the case in at least parts of the US.


        1. I am really not sure what happens in high schools anymore. I went to a very average suburban public high school in the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s, and while I said and wrote some fairly uninformed things at university that I’m sure made my instructors snicker, I did know about the Reformation and the civil war and even a little bit of calculus and physics. Some people blame the rise of standardized testing, or things like that, but I really have no idea. Because it’s not as if the students can’t learn the material – they’re smart, and some of them are quite motivated. It’s that no one has ever said: look, here are some basic things about the world that you need to know. I don’t mind telling them about the printing press, or the difference between Catholics and Protestants – but I kind of wish they already knew, so we could talk about more complex stuff.


            1. I know what you mean. At my last job I encountered quite a few students who were majoring in history in order to become secondary school teachers. There were a few of them that made me fear for the future of our nation’s youth. But there was one kid who was from the rural south, and was a fantastic student, and intended to become a middle school history teacher in a town like the one she was from – I wish they were all like her.

              In my more idealistic moments I sometimes think: should I have become a high school history teacher instead, so I could fix some of the problems I kvetch about? (And then I think – no that would be a terrible idea, because I think I’d be awful at it. I like teaching, but I will be the first to admit I do better in the slightly more controlled environment of a university.)


          1. Maybe you could just lend them the DVDs of Blackadder 2. “Cold is God’s way of telling us to burn more Catholics”. Not, of course, that any Catholics were burned though whether that’s because Protestants are more combustible or not I don’t know. It would make for an interesting lab class.


            1. A friend of mine whose area is specifically early modern England gave her students an assignment where they had to watch one of several modern movies/tv shows about Elizabeth’s reign and discuss how it compared to or played with the real thing – Blackadder was one of the options. She said it worked surprisingly well.

              There’s an essay by Natalie Zemon Davis about religious violence in early modern France in which she says that in the area she studied, on average Catholics tended more to go after Protestants’ bodies while Protestants tended to smash and burn objects. So I guess if you were in a religious riot in, say, Lyon in the 1550s it was better to be a Catholic rather than a Prot in terms of survival odds.


                1. I think the idea of pollution/corruption/the bodies of heretics as representing physical disease definitely played into it. I was always sort of curious what would have happened if France had ended up majority Protestant instead of the other way around – whether there would have been an expulsion of Catholics ala the Edict of Nantes.


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