England in Myth & Stone—2013

Course Description: This Spring course abroad (we depart in May, after graduation) combines scholarly field research with the spirit of a pilgrimage. Since the explosion of what author John Michell called “megolithomania” in the late Victorian age, the sacred sites of Britain have been among the most studied and documented artefacts in the world. After spending a couple of days in London, we will traverse the mythic landscape of Britain, from Stonehenge to Avebury, from Arthur’s birthplace, Tintagel, to his resting place, the Isle of Avalon (modern Glastonbury). Our goal is to attempt to make sense of some of the questions that have long puzzled archaeologists, historians, and spiritual thinkers. How could a supposedly pre-scientific culture create sophisticated solar and lunar calendars and astronomical observatories made variously of mounds, ditches, sticks, rocks, and graves? Why were the pre-Celts identified as giants? Was King Arthur a war chieftain, a romance hero, or a zodiacal god? What is the secret of the Grail? Topics will include ancient astronomy, megalith construction, sacred geometry, and the assimilation of pre-Celtic and Druidic wisdom into early Christian spirituality. Students will read a variety of critical models for interpreting the ancient world, keep a daily journal, and complete a substantial final project and process essay upon returning from England. Prerequisite: permission of the instructors (Mark Vecchio, Wendy Shifrin). Enrollment cap: 12 students. 3 credits.

    Concentrations this course fits in: Art History; Cultural Studies; European Studies; Gender Studies; History; Literary Studies; Philosophy, Religion, and Theory; Psychology.

    Required Texts: Geoffrey Ashe, Mythology of the British Isles, plus a course anthology (download anthology PDF here); Paul Devereux, Symbolic Landscapes; an approved Dictionary of Symbolism. All students are required to watch the John Boorman film, Excalibur, within two weeks of departure for England (regardless of how many times they’ve seen it before).

    Academic Requirements: active participation on the trip; a substantial final project based on readings and field work; a detailed trip journal; substantial process paper (A.K.A. “inquiry log”) based on the journal. The journal will be turned in for review the first morning in Glastonbury, and the project + process paper will be due no later than June 21st.

    Approximate Travel Dates: 5/20/13–6/7/13.

    Cost: The tuition of $3,995 covers round-trip airfare, all accommodations, one meal per day (breakfast), travel by van outside London, and all course-related tours and lectures; it does not include meals after breakfast ($40–50/day), books ($50–75), laundrettes (coins), tube fare in London, or spending money.