115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Compton's 21st Century Translations of Medieval Literature

Valerie Woodward, El Camino College, Compton Center

This paper shares the experiences of teaching Medieval British literature at Compton Community College, an urban community college that serves a majority-minority population. Connections between a variety of texts to 21st century south Los Angeles occurred through a combination of close reading, creative writing, and resistive pedagogical techniques.


Pedagogy as Resistance: Compton’s 21st Century Translations of the Medieval World

                My paper shares my experience and methods for teaching Medieval British Literature at Compton Community College.  This class was particularly challenging for two main reasons. The first was that I’m not a medievalist, I had never taught medieval literature, and in fact, my specialty is 19th/20th century American literature. Secondly, I was teaching in a community (in)famously known for its violence, marginalization, and poverty.  Additionally, this literature class was a requirement for English majors and for those attempting their teaching credential. Thus, while I did have a few students genuinely interested in the material, the majority were taking this class simply to fulfill a requirement. This combination seemed daunting. The texts that I had anticipated as the most challenging: Beowulf and a combination of Celtic/Welsh mythologies, The Tain and The Mabinogion, were the ones that ended up being the most successful.

                In addition to these personal challenges, the pedagogical challenge was how to teach literary analysis to a group of students who were intermittently interested but definitely underprepared. I wanted to create a course that did double duty: taught students how to write better and to get them at least somewhat interested in this literature but just as importantly, emphasize the ways which literature was a resistive tool for the boundaries society seemed to impose upon my students.

                Through a combination of close reading and creative writing exercises, we were able to connect medieval Britain and its concerns about what it means to be heroic, women’s roles, stereotyping, and the tension between individual and community needs, to 21st century South Los Angeles. In particular, the trope of the hero’s journey, was one that we discussed and analyzed the most, and we were able to approach this from a variety of viewpoints, personal and critical.

                My paper shares the specific exercises and assignments, the particular challenges of teaching underprepared students in an upper-division class, student outcomes, and the changes I’ve made since I first taught this class.