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04/02/2018

Winthrop Explores Timeless Themes Found in Middle Ages Stories

Quick Facts

 During the spring semester, the university has offered medieval and gaming classes, arranged activities in Dacus Library around the theme of Dungeons & Dragons, and produced a play.
 For the Department of English, fantasy literature and games are a major avenue to bring students into the more serious world of medieval studies, said Jo Koster, who is teaching a class in Old English and Old Norse literature this semester.

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Cast of "She Kills Monsters"
ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA – With the popularity of modern day shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “Vikings,” Winthrop University is using the historical and literary pictures of the Middle Ages to focus on culture, warfare and diversity.

During the spring semester, the university has offered medieval and gaming classes, arranged activities in Dacus Library around the theme of Dungeons & Dragons, and produced a play.

For the Department of English, fantasy literature and games are a major avenue to bring students into the more serious world of medieval studies, said Jo Koster, who is teaching a class in Old English and Old Norse literature this semester. “They come to us interested in dragons and elves and find themselves looking at how Vikings sold African slaves in Ireland or how medieval women practiced medicine.”

She continued: “Shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Vikings’ tend to impose modern psychologies and power struggles on them. This is one of the things that interests our students—how the modern interpretations rework and twist the historical sources. Sometimes they decide that the medieval versions are more entertaining.”

Meanwhile, Dacus Library will host Dungeons & Dragons themed events, in conjunction with the theatre department's production of the play “She Kills Monsters.”

“The library events are an opportunity to show students the origins of their favorite fantasy stories,” said Trey Woodring, the library's circulation assistant. “From Dungeons & Dragons to Harry Potter, most modern fantasy was inspired by books that you can find here at the library.”

The Dacus events are:
• Tuesday, April 3, 11 a.m. - Gregory Bell of the Department of History will lead a discussion about the influences of medieval culture and warfare on modern movies and gaming. He will draw connections between historical events and ideas, and modern games and books such as “The Lord of the Rings,” along with the game “Assassin’s Creed.”
 
• Wednesday, April 4, 11 a.m., - there will be a scavenger hunt and raffle drawings. Prizes will be awarded to the winners.
 
• Thursday, April 5, 11 a.m. - Christina Stiles of the Department of English, who currently teaches a game design class based on the Middle Ages for the medieval studies program, will lead a discussion about the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and the fantasy literature that inspired it. Attendees will have an opportunity to learn how to create their own Dungeons & Dragons character.

Meanwhile, the Department of Theatre and Dance is producing the play “She Kills Monsters” from April 4-8. It involves a character who discovers that her deceased younger sister played the tabletop fantasy game, Dungeons & Dragons. The protagonist finds a notebook containing a game scenario that her sister had written and enlists a "dungeon master" to help her in playing the quest her sister described. This dramatic comedy is laden with homicidal fairies, nasty ogres and 90s pop culture, and offers a heart-pounding homage to the geek and warrior within us all.

The play, directed by Matt Ferrell and written by playwright Qui Nguyen, runs from April 4-8 in Johnson Theatre. Tickets are $8 with Winthrop ID/$15 general public. Click here for more information.

With many Winthrop students having grown up around gaming in one form or another, the connections to games allow professors to discuss history in a gaming context, said Stiles. In addition, games are also great modes of critical thinking, added Stiles, who has linked her class to the Elements of Reasoning and Standards learned in CRTW 201.

To help students navigate the gaming world, Kobold Press and Bella Rosa Books have contributed gaming books to Dacus Library to begin its first collection. Stiles will teach another game-related class this summer: WRIT 311: Introduction to Tabletop Role-Playing Game Writing.

Another factor to consider, according to English Professor Koster, is that modern interpretations of the Middle Ages tend to downplay the diversity. “My students this semester have been reading Islamic accounts of trading with Norse settlers in Russia, about the Ethiopian soldier found buried in an English churchyard, and about Mongolian DNA being extracted from Viking skeletons,” Koster said. “It’s a much more multicultural and colorful world than Hollywood often makes it look.”

For more information, contact Judy Longshaw, news and media services manager, at longshawj@winthrop.edu or 803/323-2404.


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