New professor takes on Medieval Studies, compares UConn to Duke
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2012 23:10
There’s a new expert in town, and she’s ready to pull her students into the Middle Ages.
Fiona Somerset, a well-known teacher from Duke University, joined the UConn staff this semester.
“I think the students are more friendly and outgoing,” she said, “and interesting.”
Which isn’t to say she didn’t have great students at Duke as well: they were just a different sort of student.
“On this campus, if you have anything that you’re carrying or that you’re doing, everyone wants to jump in and help. Grad students, undergrads, professors… people want to help,” she said.
She said she is enthralled by what she calls the “culture” of UConn and the difference between the people here versus at Duke.
“I would say that a really interesting difference in campus culture is that when, say, I’m carrying heavy things around here, people offer to help me out and open doors for me,” she said. “And they never did that at Duke.”
She said that moving in has been busy and that she’s excited to be in such a wonderful environment as UConn has been for her so far.
“I really like the campus community. There’s more of a sense of that community,” she added. “There’s more of a participation and there’s more of a sort of cooperation.”
That participation will prove crucial to her classes, in which she seeks to involve students more than they might be used to.
“If they’re English majors, they’re already used to using history to ask questions about things they think they know,” she said.
But, she said, she’s had many non-English majors before as well, such as engineering majors, and knows that teaching Chaucer and other works to people not very familiar with his work is tricky.
“The first move that any eighteen or twenty year old should make when they get told to believe something is true in the world is to say ‘Really?’ and check it out,” she said. “I try to teach that kind of skeptical curiosity and that wish to question what you’re being told as a way of life.”
Nothing is to be gotten from letting others pull the wool over yours eyes, she also said, so she wants to encourage her students to think for themselves and learn to question everything around them. She wants them to decide what to believe because, as she phrased it, that is the “basis of what you learn.”
In her classes, she wants to teach students to look closer at texts and ask questions that challenge what they already know, the way she does when pondering over a historical work of fiction.
“One way that I ask questions is by studying the past. But I think that there are lots of ways, from me and from other professors, to learn this inquiring attitude. To be always asking,” she said.