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Guest Editors' Introduction: Teaching Medieval Literature off the Grid
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Guest Editors' Introduction:
Teaching Medieval Literature off the Grid

In modern usage, living "off the grid" means living totally independently, without the modern conveniences of publicly supplied gas, electricity, and water; it also refers to people who strive to remain unrecorded in governmental, financial, and medical documents. More generally, to live off the grid is to live against the grain of society, ideologically at odds with the mainstream. As we have put the idea to use for this guest-edited issue, "Teaching Medieval Literature off the Grid," instructors who incorporate noncanonical texts into their classrooms resemble the above definitions in several respects. For one thing, to teach "off the grid" is almost always to teach self-sufficiently—to locate the texts you think are important and figure out for yourself why they are important, to provide or create your own introductory notes, glosses, and other relevant contextualizing material for your students. It is to build a lesson literally from the ground up. You are certainly off the beaten path, without much assistance or advice from textbooks, teachers' manuals, online resources, or other scholars' work; there is little, if anything, to vouch for or justify your lesson plan. To put it simply, and most generally, to teach off the grid is to teach outside the comfort zone of the canon, without the built-in validations and pedagogies that literary tradition provides. The challenges of teaching off the grid are many, but this issue of Pedagogy argues that the rewards are great. Noncanonical texts can shed light on perspectives different from those represented by the culturally authoritative texts of the canon, often can serve the useful purpose of defamiliarizing traditional readings, and [End Page 205] may even engage students in ways canonical literary texts simply cannot. The essays in this collection not only query the nature and limits of canonicity but also offer models, strategies, and lesson plans that teachers can use to incorporate lesser-known medieval texts into a range of literature courses—from courses focused exclusively on medieval literature, to the early British literature survey, to a wide range of special topics courses.

The goal of this collection is not to set out alternative canons of medieval literature that, as John Guillory (1995) has shown, merely perpetuate the exclusionist practices of canon formation more generally. Nor is it simply to expand the existing canon of medieval literature, although many of the pedagogies presented here arguably—we hope—will lead to these texts being included in more classrooms. Rather, these essays offer strategies for assigning what Wendell V. Harris (1991: 119) calls "selections with purposes"—lesser-known, sometimes nonfictional texts included on course syllabi to raise specific questions with students, to introduce specific skills, and, as Annette Kolodny (1985) has described it, to disrupt, complicate, and make unfamiliar the great literary standards. Without question, the scholarly canon of medieval texts continues to grow, a point Nancy Bradley Warren (2009) has made using the MLA International Bibliography search engine to track increasing attention to less traditional texts. Harris (1991: 113), however, has compellingly argued that the "pedagogical canon"—those texts regularly taught in undergraduate classes—is actually "much shorter than the official canon."1 When one considers Warren's and Harris's ideas together, it becomes clear that the innovative scholarship Warren charts does not always or easily find its way into classrooms. Students do not often enough encounter "newly" canonical authors like Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, let alone even less canonical texts like the playfully pedagogical Latin colloquies of the eleventh-century writer Ælfric Bata (discussed in this volume by Harold Zimmerman), or Hildegard of Bingen's Physica, a text on health and healing written by an abbess more famous for her mystical visions (the focus of Andreea Boboc's piece). These and other essays in this collection make the case that the traditional grid of canonical texts can be invigorated by incorporating such noncanonical material into the literature classroom.

Medieval studies shares with other fields the pedagogical reality that research into lesser-known texts outpaces the inclusion of such texts in the classroom. But whereas courses in African American, Native...