My last blog, “Buildings that Amaze”, was about the huge impact that my first trip abroad had on my life. This blog is about my latest – and most ambitious – attempt to provide just that kind of experience for my students.

I’ve taught a course on medieval architecture almost every year since I arrived at Carleton, and I’ve often quipped that it would be nice to be able to fly off and study these buildings firsthand rather than through images projected onto a screen. My students have generally agreed, sometimes quite vigorously. This coming summer, we’ll get our chance to do just that.

English Gothic Live will be an intensive three-week course (July 25th to August 12th) on English medieval and medievalist architecture, taught through a series of site visits from our ‘home’ base at the University of Warwick on the outskirts of Coventry. Here are ten things I’m particularly looking forward to seeing with students:

10 The Phoenix at Coventry

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Coventry’s medieval cathedral was destroyed in a particularly brutal air raid on the night of November 14th, 1940. Today, the shell of that building stands as a ghostly witness to the Blitz beside the triumphant Modernist cathedral designed by Sir Basil Spence.

9 Shakespeare’s Ghost

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We’ll visit Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare’s ghost is said to walk the winding streets between the timber-framed houses. Some even claim that the apparition shows up in photographs.

8 Romance

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The Earl of Leicester added this whole wing to his castle to host Queen Elizabeth I during one of her visits. It was his last, best chance to persuade her to marry him. It didn’t work, which probably really irritated him. But it also made him into a forlorn, romantic hero for posterity.

7) Harry Was Here

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Even today, our tales of magic and wonder seem to fit seamlessly and naturally into medieval spaces. That’s why many of the sets used in the Harry Potter films were actual medieval buildings – like the Oxford Divinity School, above, which we’ll be visiting.

6 Leafy Boughs

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Southwell is a small town in an out of the way part of Nottinghamshire well off all the major traffic routes and without a train station. But it also contains some of the most spectacular medieval carvings in Europe, so we’ll be going there.

5 Food and Drink

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No, really. I don’t know anywhere else where one can enjoy kebabs and other comfort foods in a half-timber house on a reconstructed medieval street. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

4 Green Men

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I’ve blogged about the Green Man before – twice, in fact. He is mysterious, beautiful, perplexing, refreshing, wistful, teasing, inviting and elusive all at once. And we’ll be meeting him, dozens of times.

3 Angels

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Lincoln Cathedral’s Angel Choir earned its name because of the many angels carved in the spandrels of the gallery arcade. Many of them are playing musical instruments, but looking around, you’d swear that they must have made the building, too.

2 Gothick

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In between the original Gothic of the Middle Ages and the High Victorian Gothic of the nineteenth century, there was a strange, hybrid concoction known affectionately as Gothick. We’ll be looking at some of the most spectacular examples of it, including All Souls College by Nicholas Hawksmoor (above).

1 High Tech

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Near the middle of the nineteenth century, the romantic love of all things medieval collided with brash new technology to create one of the most visionary buildings of the Victorian era. This stunning essay in iron, glass and Gothic is called the Oxford Museum of Natural History, and we’ll be going there.

0 Being There

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I couldn’t keep the list down to ten, so here’s a bonus. Simply put, there is no substitute for being there. For standing on the stages of history. For feeling space as it unfolds above and around you. For being swallowed whole by the imaginative vision of people who lived centuries ago.

For more information about this course, contact me at peter.coffman@carleton.ca or attend one of the information sessions:

  • Tuesday, February 23, 2:00 pm
  • Thursday, February 25, 10:00 am
  • 472 St. Patrick’s Building

2 thoughts on “English Gothic Live: A Study Abroad Opportunity”

  1. Jana Nitschke says:

    I can recommend this kind of experience to everyone! Seriously take the chance. You will never learn as much as on a trip like this. I took an off campus class in Rome for 2 weeks in 2013 and it was the best thing that could have happen to me. Not only do you get to see the country, but you actually get to experience how it would be like to live in the same place. It gives you a whole new perspective! And who better to go with than Peter Coffman himself! Wish I could go!

  2. Shana says:

    I wish I could go too and I don’t even go to Carleton.

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