Followers of my twitter feed may have noticed in the past few weeks a number of frustrated comments on the not terribly subtle political slant of the online Danish course for new residents that I’m ploughing on with at the moment. I’m thinking here of emphasis from the very beginning on saying that I enjoy my work, or repeating the recorded voice announcing that Denmark is a democracy, or a model text mentioning the importance of generating new offspring to support society. On one level my reaction is just another reminder of how students are more likely to be motivated by working with material that interests them. But it also made me pause and think about the role that such decisions about what to teach play in my own profession, especially in the context of the research project I’m doing at the moment.
I’m looking, as you’re probably aware, at the ways people, texts, and ideas moved across linguistic boundaries around the Baltic in the Middle Ages. One of the nice things about moving to Denmark to carry out the project is that I am living out many of the themes and questions behind it. And I see – not least in going through that free language course for twenty-first century immigrants – just how relevant it is to take the long view of such processes of dis- and relocation.
Yet this same crossover between worlds personal and professional made me aware of the irony in moaning about the agenda behind that language programme. The questions of what is left in, what left out, and why, are after all just as pertinent to teaching in my own line of work. It would, for instance, be an interesting exercise to ask how often students are given the opportunity to confront premodern texts when studying such fields as migration, translation, transnationalism, or comparative and global literature. I leave that as a rhetorical question, but it is part of the background to one of the fun parts of the project, which lies in thinking about ways to ‘translate’ what I and the CML more generally are doing back into teaching practice in education systems and curricula. That of course inevitably means making decisions of my own about what I am going to teach my students, so there is no way out of that particular bind. But there is a vindication to be had in the fact that, as the ‘Reflections’ seminars in Bonn last year showed, that all-important interest is there.