What is this class about?

First line of the Prologue from the Ellesmere Chaucer

This image depicts one of the opening leaves of the Ellesmere Chaucer, a fifteenth-century MS held at the Huntington Library in California. The lines transcribed and illuminated on this leaf are from the opening of the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

The obvious answer? Chaucer. More specifically, this course is about the history of Chaucer and his literary legacy, from the time he wrote until the present in which we are still reading his work. We will also study the artifacts–medieval manuscripts, modern print books, websites, etc.–in which that history is embodied. Finally, this course is an introduction to the discipline of medieval studies. We will explore the methods and strategies scholars employ to generate knew knowledge and new questions from old things.

As part of this process, we will necessarily be evaluating the utility of those methods and strategies in both study of the Middle Ages and the investigation of modernity. What, if anything, can study of Chaucer and his historical context add to our understanding of our own time and place? What arguments exist for the intrinsic value of medieval studies as a field of inquiry in its own right, regardless of whether the knowledge we obtain can be “applied” or made “useful” in resolving “modern” problems?

What can I expect to learn?

First and foremost, this course is designed to provide students with an overview of Chaucer’s work, life, and historical context. We will read several of Chaucer’s major works in the original Middle English, and “reading” will include brief bursts of reading aloud, in class, in Middle English to help us focus upon particular lines or passages and get some sense of how these texts functioned within Chaucer’s own culture. Working individually, each student will further study and analyze one of Chaucer’s shorter poems. Secondary materials such as histories, scholarly essays, maps, and images of the art and architecture of late-medieval England will help to add historical context and a disciplinary framework to our close reading and literary analysis of primary sources.

The course is also intended to get us thinking about how the remnants (or revenants) of medieval culture continue to function in contemporary society. Do they help connect us to the past? Or are they reminders of how distant that past really is? Or both? We will consider whether medieval modes of cultural production, in particular the codex manuscript, still have relevance in a post-digital age, and if so what that relevance might be. We will also study modern “manifestations” and “continuations” of Chaucer’s work and think about why, more than 600 years after his death, Chaucer, his, life, and his work still inspire art and scholarship.

Geoffrey Chaucer. Photo courtesy of Andrew Becraft (aka Dunechaser) on Flickr.

According to the photographer, Andrew Becraft, this is an image of Geoffrey Chaucer, “Writer, poet, Comptroller of the Custom and Subsidy of Wool, blogger. Born ca. 1343, died in 1400.” Photo reproduced courtesy of a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license from the photographer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dunechaser/120171421/.

Finally, the projects you complete both in and out of class are designed to develop your media “literacy,” or your awareness of how media and technology affect the production and dissemination of cultural artifacts and communication.

What texts are we studying?

You will need to purchase three texts for this class:

Bryant, Brantley. Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog. (Palgrave, 2010).

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. by Robert Hanning. (Barnes & Noble, 2007). Make sure to purchase this exact edition, in print. Until you get more acclimated with reading the Middle English, the print, facing-page translation format of this book will be a big help, trust me. The price for used copies in the B&N marketplace starts at $1.00.

Jones, Terry, et al. Who Murdered Chaucer? (Thomas Dunne Books, 2004).

We will also be reading Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women and House of Fame, and selections from Thomas Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes, John Lydgate’s Troy Book, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Heroides.

In addition to these literary texts, we will read a seminal article in the field of Chaucerian textual studies, “The Production of Copies of the Canterbury Tales and the Confessio Amantis in the Early Fifteenth Century,” by A.I. Doyle and M.B. Parkes. Our introduction to paleography and codicology will be facilitated by this series of video tutorials created by a medieval studies graduate student and this video from the Getty Museum:

Finally, we will move from a consideration of the media in which Chaucer’s texts were first produced to a consideration of how medieval texts are represented in contemporary forms. The resources we will use during this stage of our inquiry will include digitization projects involving the Gough Map, the Ellesmere and Hengwrt Chaucer manuscripts, and another famous medieval codex, the Auchinleck manuscript.

What tools are we using?

We will use the following digital tools to complete work for this course:




Google Docs




If you do not already have free user accounts for each of these services, you will need to create them. You may create pseudonymous user accounts solely for use in this class, or you can use existing accounts associated with your actual name. We will go over the basics of sharing content via these tools in class as it becomes relevant. Ultimately, however, learning how to use these tools is *your* responsibility. If you have questions, then you will need to meet with me, or a peer outside of class to discuss them, or consult any of the other IT resources available on campus.

In addition, I will add you as a user to this blog, which runs on WordPress. You may create a pseudonymous identity for this site as well, or you can use your “real” name and persona. The choice of your online identity for this class is an important one, so make it with care. I’m happy to discuss the pros and cons of a pseudonym with you if you have questions.

In addition to these digital tools, your work in this class will include the collaborative fabrication of a modern manuscript codex of selections from Chaucer’s minor poetry. So, depending on your role in the project, you may be using a number of specialized bookmaking tools and materials as well. We will be working with the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, the Georgia Tech craft center, and the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum. Each student will be required to contribute a small laboratory fee, of not more than $50, to cover the cost of materials for this project.

Male and Female Medieval Copyists at Work

This detail from a 14th century copy of the Roman de la Rose (BNF Fr. 25526, fol. 77v), depicts two copyists or scribes, one male and one female, at work. You can browse more images of medieval scribes and their tools here.

The tools described above are those you will definitely be required to use. In addition to these tools, you will almost certainly need to make use of others, as appropriate, to complete assigned work. For example, for your final project, you will build a collaborative digital edition of  the manuscript you have created using whatever web design tools are at your disposal. In the event I don’t specify a particular tool for a particular project, deciding which tool or tools to use, and acquiring proficiency with it/them will be your responsibility.

If you ever have questions about what tools you should use for a particular project or how to use them, you can make an appointment to discuss them with me, and you can also get help from a number of IT resources on campus.

What are we doing?

All readings, due dates, and events are listed on our public Google calendar. You can also access the course calendar in the Course Calendar section of this site. For a brief description of the major course requirements, see the Projects page. More detailed descriptions of the major projects will be made available when we commence work on them.

What are the instructor’s policies and expectations?

As a general rule, everyone in this class should treat everyone else with respect, and all students should follow the student code of conduct.

As your instructor, I undertake to abide by my own policies as set out below, to treat all students fairly and with respect, to create a classroom environment conducive to learning and open discussion, and to be available during reasonable hours outside of class to clarify student questions related to course projects and material.

As students in this class, you are expected to take the class seriously, to comply with the policies set out below, to complete assigned readings and work in a timely and professional manner, to create a classroom environment conducive to learning and open discussion, and to take responsibility for your own learning.

Academic Honesty

  • Webster’s dictionary defines plagiarism as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own.” To avoid any confusion that might arise when “stealing” isn’t involved, say when a student purchases a paper from an essay mill or “borrows” previous work from a fellow sorority or fraternity member, I define plagiarism simply as “passing off the ideas, work or words of another as one’s own.”
  • Students who plagiarize will be dealt with according to the GT Academic Honor Code.
  • Except as provided in the instructions for particular projects, students should complete all work for this class on their own, with collaboration limited to peer review feedback as specified in the project description.
  • We should always provide attribution whenever we incorporate the ideas, words or work of another in our own work.
  • All work turned in for credit in this class should be work that you have done specifically for this class. Do not “recycle” old work or even new work completed for another class. If you would like to build upon previous work or work that you are doing in another class in an assignment for this one, please clear it with me first.


  • Attendance and active participation and engagement in class are required.
  • Students who have not done the reading and/or who do not actively participate during the class period may be counted absent. Students may miss a total of five (5) classes over the course of the semester without penalty.
  • I do not make any distinction between excused and unexcused absences.
  • Students are responsible for finding out what they may have missed while absent, and I do not allow students to make up quizzes or in-class assignments. I build in a limited amount of extra credit related to in-class work so that missing one or two such in-class assignments will not negatively impact a student’s grade, however.
  • Each additional absence after the fifth will result in a deduction of three (3) points from a student’s final grade.
  • Students are expected to keep up with their own attendance record; see me if you have a question about how many classes you have missed according to my records.

“Class Notes” Folder

  • To make it easier for students to find out what they have missed if they must be absent from class, I have created a class notes folder on Dropbox.
  • Students can contribute their class notes (as .doc, .odt, or PDF) to the project on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Contributions to the class notes folder will count toward a student’s overall class participation grade and can be used as evidence in the self-assessment essays to support a student’s argument for class participation points.

The “Help Desk” Forum

  • To answer questions that come up outside of class and office hours, I have created a “FAQs” category on our class blog.
  • Before e-mailing me with any general questions about an assignment, i.e., any questions that are not specifically related to your particular topic, please check to see if your question has been answered in the “Help Desk” forum, and if it has not, post it there, making sure to file your post under the “FAQs” category.
  • I will monitor the Help Desk, and I encourage everyone to do the same. You can respond to questions by commenting on the original post. Students who contribute helpful questions and useful answers to their peers’ questions can use that participation as evidence in the in-class self-assessment essays to support their arguments for class participation points.


  • All grading is holistic.
  • To achieve a satisfactory grade, a project must be complete. Incomplete projects will receive an unsatisfactory grade.
  • This means students must complete every stage of a project in order to receive a satisfactory (C or better) grade on that project.
  • Failure to complete any stage (draft, peer review, post-write reflection, etc.) of a project will result in an incomplete project and an unsatisfactory grade (D or F) on that assignment.
  • Similarly, since the projects are intended to build upon one another as students work over the course of the semester, failure to complete any of the individual projects may result in an unsatisfactory grade for the course.

Late Work

  • Absent exceptional circumstances, failure to complete daily work or a project stage by the date it is due will result in the student losing the full point value assigned to such work.
  • Late is still better than never when it comes to project stages and the like, however, because failure to complete the work associated with a particular stage or draft altogether would result in an unsatifactory grade on the overall project.
  • Similarly, since each project builds from previous projects and failure to complete any one project may lead to an unsatisfactory grade for the course, turning a final draft in late is better than not turning it in at all.


  • I prefer to use e-mail as a scheduling and notification tool.
  • If you have a substantive question about the material that we are covering or your work, please set up a time to meet with me or just stop by during office hours.
  • If you miss class, check with your classmates, the “Class Notes” project, or make a “Help Desk” posting to the class blog to find out what you missed.

Changes to the Syllabus

  • This syllabus is a general plan for the course and may be subject to modification as the semester progresses.
  • In the event changes are necessary, I will make them in consultation with the rest of the class and at least two weeks in advance of any affected due dates.

Discrimination and Harrassment

  • Georgia Tech does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation and identity, marital status, disability, or status as a U.S. veteran. This class adheres to those guidelines.
  • Alternative viewpoints are welcome in this classroom.
  • However, statements that are deemed racist, sexist, classist, or otherwise discriminatory toward others in the class will not be tolerated.
  • No form of harassment or discrimination is allowed in this class.
  • In keeping with the professional nature of this course, only professional behavior is acceptable between the instructor and the students and between students.
  • No harassment of any kind is allowed in class including but not limited to gender, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation and identity, and ethnicity.

Accommodation of Students With Disabilities

  • Georgia Tech complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
  • No retroactive accommodations will be provided in this class.
  • If you have a documented disability and anticipate needing accommodations in this course, please make arrangements to meet with me soon, preferably in the first week of the semester or as soon as you become aware of your need for accommodation.
  • Prior to our meeting, if you have not already done so, please request that ADAPTS staff verify your disability and specify the accommodation you will need.

Week Preceding Final Exams (WPFE)

  • No major course projects will be completed in their entirety during the WPFE. Work on and presentation of major course projects will be part of in-class and out-of-class work during the semester, and work on and presentation of major course projects begun prior to the WPFE may be part of in-class and out-of-class work during the WPFE.
  • No new out-of-class assignments will be given during the WPFE. Out-of-class assignments that have been on the syllabus and are begun before the WPFE may be due during the WPFE.
  • This course includes no quizzes or tests during the WPFE. All quizzes and tests will be graded and returned or available for review on or before the last day of class preceding final exam week.
  • This course has no final exam. In lieu of a final exam, this course has a final project, which you will work on over the course of the semester. It will be due at the time of the final examination, and the last stage will be completed during the final exam period for this course.

Where Can I Get Help?

You have a number of resources available to you if you need help. For questions about research or multimedia tools, the library staff are a wonderful source of information. Your peers can answer questions about what we covered in class, readings, and projects. If you need background information about a text, you can often find it in the library or by searching on the web.

The Communication Center is located in Clough Commons, Suite 447. It is an excellent resource if you need help with a project. You can visit the center for help at any stage of the process for any communication project (paper, presentation, report, website design, blog, etc.) in this or any of your classes. The knowledgeable and friendly tutors are available to help you develop and revise your projects. They are not available to “fix” them. So, for example, please do not ask the tutors to proofread or edit your projects. For information on making an appointment please visit this website. If you need assistance with the appointment system, you can call 404-385-3612 or stop by the center. All services are free and confidential.

Finally, you can get help from me, your instructor, by making an appointment to see me or just stopping by during office hours.