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Medieval studies seminar in Storrs on April 7 (Released: 3/31/00)

By Allison Thompson, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- For most people, the Middle Ages evoke negative images of the bubonic plague and the Crusades. Sherri Olson wants to challenge those ideas.

Olson, an associate professor of history who is affiliated with the Medieval Studies Program at the University of Connecticut, is the organizer of the third annual Medieval Studies Secondary Schools Outreach Seminar, "Medieval Europe and the Crusades." The April 7 seminar, co-sponsored by the Medieval Studies Program and the Center for Professional Development, is designed to assist public school teachers in teaching the history of the Crusades.

While the military campaigns have captured the imagination of scholars and students, they and other aspects of the Middle Ages are often misrepresented.

"Medieval history is frequently not well-taught. The texts used in public school and even college-level western civilization courses often minimize it," Olson says. "With this seminar, we hope to redress that imbalance."

During the daylong seminar, Olson and other faculty members affiliated with the Medieval Studies Program will discuss topics ranging from different approaches to studying the Crusades and the portrayal of Pagans in literature to a character from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and a 13th Century Crusade called by the pope.

The seminar begins at 9:45 a.m. with welcoming remarks from Thomas Jambeck, co-director of the Medieval Studies Program. At 10 a.m., Fred Cazel Jr., an emeritus professor of history, will deliver a talk "The History of the History of the Crusades." Bob Hasenfratz, an associate professor of English, will discuss "Chaucer's Crusading Knight" at 10:30 a.m.

At 11:15 a.m., Anne Berthelot, a professor of French, will give the lecture "Pagans May Be Wrong, But Their Daughters Are Pretty." Following a question and answer session and a lunch break, Olson will give the final lecture of the day, "The Albigensian Crusade," at 1:30 p.m. All the sessions will be held in Room 380 of the Student Union.

By reaching out to secondary school teachers, Olson hopes to excite and inform them and their students about the Middle Ages.

"Students' knowledge of the medieval period is practically non-existent," Olson says. "Often, all they know about it is that it was bad."

The seminar's goal to enlighten and educate attendees is similar to the program's mission. Founded more than 30 years ago, the interdisciplinary program aims to teach graduate students - most of whom want to be professors - about the Middle Ages. UConn's program is the only one at a public institution in the northeast that offers master's and doctoral degrees in medieval studies. Among public and private institutions, Yale University and the University of Toronto are the only others in the east which grant both degrees.

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