The English department has created an online Medieval class to help a student complete his degree while serving in the military overseas.
The class — Studies in Medieval Literature: “Game of Thrones” and Its Medieval Worlds — is being adapted to an online format by English professor Mary Hayes, who has taught the class twice before in a traditional classroom setting, and has taught multiple other classes online.
Game of Thrones is the popular HBO series based on the book franchise by George Martin. Classic Medieval literature such as “Beowulf” and Machiavelli’s “The Prince” have been cited by Martin as inspiration for his series, making examining the show from a literary standpoint even more fascinating.
Ole Miss is not the only place that Game of Thrones has inspired coursework. UC Berkeley offers a linguistics course, and both Northern Illinois University and The University of Tulsa offer history courses.
Dean of Liberal Arts Lee Cohen said the specific impetus for creating the course was to assist the enlisted student, other students stand to gain from the experience as well.
“Having this class online would allow for some to complete their degree who would otherwise have difficulty doing so,” Cohen said.
With so many upper-level English classes being rooted in class discussions, the online format can be both a help and a hindrance.
“Sometimes there’s magic that happens—just when you get people in a room together talking about something,” professor Mary Hayes Hayes said. “But then also it’s a little bit stressful for people who do find heated class discussions hard to know when to jump in, the online format can help a student who is less forthcoming in a classroom environment. You have your big talkers and your quiet people, so that playing field is leveled.”
Hayes said the online format can sometimes leave students feeling isolated, but a class centered around a TV show is really well-suited to that format.
“Not only is there the media that you get to play and watch as part of the course material, but also you are in a culture where “Game of Thrones” is talked about a bunch and everybody has friends who like the show,” Hayes said.
Senior Olivia Morgan took the class during August intersession last year.
“Game of Thrones has made Medieval lit sort of cool. It’s interesting to look at a modern TV show and how it has drawn on old time Medieval literature,” Morgan said. “It made visualizing some of the literature easier.”
Online, upper-level English classes are normally offered very sparingly by the English department.
“We still very strongly believe in live classes where we can look the students in the eye, and where we can actually have a conversation with them and they can ask questions,” Ivo Kamps, English department chair and professor, said. “That kind of immediacy is hard to replicate in an online format.”
While the department is cautious about their online offerings, they are confident in the courses that they do offer online.
“The online instructors we have are fantastic,” Kamps said. “A small number of our faculty members teach online, and they are absolutely meticulous in their course preparation, so it is a good experience.”
“We don’t want you to start taking all your English classes in your dorm room; we don’t think that’s good idea,” Kamps said. “We believe that our professors in the classroom, face-to-face, do a fantastic job, and we want you to have that experience if at all possible … Online is a good option for students who are unable to do that for a portion of their education.”
Hayes said she hopes students will see the “Game of Thrones” class and have their interest piqued in the Medieval studies minor.
“Just because this one is about a television show, it is really but one example of the scintillating and must-see material that’s taught in all the Medieval studies classes,” Hayes said. “I am just as excited about that class, or find it just as interesting as Chaucer or History of the English Language.”