Teaching Philosophy

 

Courses taught

C1 Schoolmasters and Students: Learning and Scholarship in Byzantium. From the “classical tradition” to the power politics and performance culture of a medieval empire. Central European University, Department of Medieval Studies (AY 2015–2016, Fall Term)

C2 The Problem of Individuality in the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period. MODULE BYZANTIUM. Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Doctoral School (AY 2013–2014, Spring Term)

C3 The Liberal Arts and the Middle Ages. Seminar Programme. Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Department of Philosophy (AY 2010–2011)

 

Aims

In my teaching, I pursue three main learning objectives. First, I aim at circumscribing the discipline and at defining its subject; at imparting knowledge about the chronological and geo-political framework, the historiography, the nature of the sources and the relevant methodologies. My discipline-specific goal is the contextualisation of Byzantine culture within the historical, cultural, and political framework of the medieval European world.

Second, I teach my students to analyse critically primary and secondary literature, thus, enhancing their analytical thinking. Importantly, I encourage them to always consider the sources’ rhetorical agenda, thus avoiding the perception of ancient and medieval texts solely as depositories of information about the past.

In terms of reading and analysing secondary literature, I focus on three main aspects: 1) I emphasise the structural aspects one might find useful in her own writing; 2) I use secondary literature as an example of formulating clear (or not) research questions and research hypotheses; 3) my discipline-specific goal is to introduce the students to the historiography of the field and to teach them to recognise and critically evaluate partisan scholarly approaches.

Third, I strongly believe that it is important to challenge the students to think independently, to experiment, and to be innovative. I structure this process chiefly through the design of the in-class activities and course assessments.

 

Methods

In the graduate-level C1 Schoolmasters and Students, my aim was to impart discipline-specific knowledge and to facilitate the development of research skills which can feed into the students’ master theses and doctoral dissertations. I relied on creating a structure of ‘community of inquiry’ by assigning each student a semester-long assignment submitted every other week, which consisted in studying a single Byzantine author, his/her life, works, and thought.

In the doctoral-level C2 The Problem of Individuality in the Late Middle Ages, my task was to nurture an understanding of the main problems related to late medieval conceptualisations of individuality and to introduce the specific features of their treatment in Byzantine sources. Thus, while designing one of four modules I was in charge of, namely Ethical, Legal, and Economic Definitions of Personal Responsibility and Private Property in Byzantium, I used in-class interactive exercises and the creation of a glossary as an after-class activity in order to make use of students’ pre-existing knowledge of legal concepts such as ‘subject’, ‘individual’, ‘person’ and ‘private’, to which the new knowledge concerning Byzantine legal philosophy was subsequently added.

 

Innovative assessment

For C3 The Liberal Arts and the Middle Ages, I devised an assessment method which helped me enhance the students’ independent thinking and facilitate their critical approach to the material. I organised a series of mini-conferences where each student presented a ten-minute paper followed by discussion. The conferences were open to the public. Pictures, resumes, some papers and presentations were later uploaded on the course blog which I created and still maintain (http://septemartesliberales.wordpress.com/). The format gained approval and popularity both among students and faculty, as students invited other faculty members and peers. The online publication of students’ papers was also well received.

I also employ the ‘learning by doing’ approach. Thus, in C1 Schoolmasters and Students, I asked the students to engage in a modern-day version of the rhetorical exercise of character delineation. Each of them chose a Byzantine author and—after extensive research of their life, thought, and literary style—, had to emulate the author’s literary persona in the form of topical status updates published on social media. Students were also asked to work in groups and create fictional dialogical exchanges between Byzantine authors (e.g. “if Michael Psellos conversed with Theodore Metochites about the value of learning, what would each of them say to the other?”).

 

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