A special report from Germantown Friends School, an independent K-12 school in Philadelphia. The report was submitted by Latin teacher James Barron.
“Our Medieval studies unit caps off a year of coordinated work in two courses. At our school, sophomores who study Latin have the option of taking their Ancient and Medieval History course in conjunction with Latin III. Students opting for this program then study the history of Rome from its origins through to the collapse of the Western empire and the transition to Medieval societies and cultures (we call this course Latin History). I teach both the Latin III and Latin History courses, so I have these students twice daily in class. The fourth quarter of the year is focused on bringing students to an awareness and appreciation of the complex process of preservation, transformation, and loss by which late antiquity became the “middle ages.” Starting with Lactantius’ De Mortibus Persecutorum (Bk 7, the administrative and economic programs of Diocletian), students then read Orosius’ Historiarum Adversum Paganos (Bk 7, the Visigoth Athaulfus’ desire to restore Roman law), Jordanes’ De Origine Actibusque Getarum (Bk 42, Attila and Pope Leo I), Gregory of Tours’ Historiae Francorum (Bk 2, the conversion of Clovis), Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni (Bk 1, Childeric III the last Merovingian king; Bks 22, 24, and 25, descriptions of Charlemagne and his educational renaissance), and finally, Fulcher of Chartres’ Historia Hierosolymitana (851-853a, the fall of Jerusalem). Finally, students spend the month of May working on individual translation and research projects in which they select a text from Harrington’s Medieval Latin (2nd edition). They research the author to provide a brief biography and then locate him or her with respect to time period, society, culture, audience, etc. In addition to their translation of their chosen author’s text, they also comment upon changes and departures from Classical Latin grammar, vocabulary, and orthography. The students really get excited about their projects. For example, two girls this year chose Hildegard of Bingen and presented her from a feminist perspective. They found recordings of Hildegard’s carmina that they had translated and wrote an alto part for one of the songs so that they, a soprano and an alto, could perform the hymn for the class. They also made cookies for us, following a recipe of Hildegard. Among other authors selected this year were Boethius, Pope Gregory I, Isidore of Seville, and Paul the Deacon. During the last class, the students explain their author and work to their classmates, and as they do so, the rich textures of Western Medieval culture become palpable and amplified. This exercise makes each student an “expert” to his or her classmates around a Medieval person and text. It also allows me to ask questions better answered by students than delivered in a lecture, for example, “Why are all of these authors associated with the church,” or “What shared worldviews exist between these writers and their audiences and what is required of us to understand and appreciate that connection on its own terms?” “