East meets west as students live historyA class meant to give students experiential learning for the semester will begin this month. Not everyone can get to the British Isles to visit Stonehenge or to Ireland to check out the thousands of cairns marking special locations along the coastline. We can log onto sites showing the armor worn during the Crusades and see photos where Canterbury Tales was set, or the important architecture of the Middle Ages that dot almost every country in Western Europe.
By: Sharon Cox, The Jamestown Sun
A class meant to give students experiential learning for the semester will begin this month. Not everyone can get to the British Isles to visit Stonehenge or to Ireland to check out the thousands of cairns marking special locations along the coastline. We can log onto sites showing the armor worn during the Crusades and see photos where Canterbury Tales was set, or the important architecture of the Middle Ages that dot almost every country in Western Europe.
Unless a person can part with several thousand U.S. dollars to make a week to a few weeks traveling, the Internet, travel books, television programs or travel videos are about the only way to get the feeling for those distant locales.
An art history class at Jamestown College offers a semester of experiences that attempt to sidestep the time-machine and body transport. The class offers two half-semester experiences that hybridizes theater, visual arts, culinary history and genealogical research.
Students research their own family’s immigration to the United States, find their family lineage as far back as they can go, and then put together their crest based on findings. Then they hand-sew a garment appropriate to the Middle Ages that their ancestors might have worn. They make chainmail and simple weapons, goblets and headgear.
They research recipes written in Old English calligraphy (which they will also learn to do), devise and organize a skit typical of the medieval period, gather and perform music and dance of the time, and conduct a Medieval feast. That may not seem like an art class. What it is, for the students however, is an experience where they actually use the equipment they’ve researched and made, and they eat the foods they’ve helped prepare. It is a living, dynamic classroom experience.
Each student will explain, during the feast’s fashion show, where their clothing design came from and how it fits into their own family’s ancestral lineage.
Once they’ve finished that half of the semester, they’ll begin working on the Eastern half of their class. It will be a hugely different experience. They’ll learn about tea, both its eastern origin as well as its western migration. The students will cut and hand sew a kimono, appropriate to the time and their roles chosen for that segment.
They will make a Japanese style tea bowl, learn the Chinese gongfu ritual, and then Japanese chado tea ceremony. The calligraphy they will learn then will be written by brush. They’ll adopt a samurai persona and act it out through the second half of the semester. They will conduct a tea ceremony wearing their kimonos. Male students will wear the inro and netsuke they will make, while women will wear the kanzashi they made for their hair.
During the chado (also called cha-no-yu) the students will kneel in front of an iron hibachi-like portable iron furnace (called a furo) and serve the frothy green powdered tea to their guests. They will not be using a tea pot, but instead a kettle that is fitted atop the furo, where water is heated and dipped into the bowl using a bamboo ladle called a hishaku.
They will then write a comparison paper to discuss their experiences.
In the past, students have said the Medieval feast was like a bunch of the guys having a Friday night party and the tea ceremony was like taking a sacrament in church on Sunday. Few would have thought that something so foreign as kneeling for tea would feel religious, while something as simple as a sit-down meal would feel like a night on the town with the boys.
They make their costumes, their food, the stage for their performances, and write their own script. Had they lived in the British Isles during the 12th Century or in Kyoto during the time of the Samurai, they would have lived those experiences in real time. The class is the closest they’ll get to those experiences outside of making two long and expensive trips to Europe and Asia.
If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.