I confess that I am familiar with only a tiny fragment of the scholarship on the Bayeux Tapestry but I am fascinated with it as a piece of material culture and for the material culture it depicts. In this week’s teaching for second years, I got them to engage with it using an old fold-out cloth version in class.
Their task was to explore in pairs different dimensions of the material culture in the tapestry, including animals, ships, armour, clothing, feasting, buildings and landscape, before considering how the embroidery operated as material culture within an elite setting. I then introduced them to considering how it might have worked as a performative piece of art, involving an interaction of text, image and embodied engagement.
The room we were using was not ideal for such an endeavour, but by draping it over the computer at the front of the class, along two desks and then with a slight curve along a series of about 8 chairs, this small version of the tapestry could be lain out for the students to engage with. Therefore, students’ awkward engagement with the print version of the monument was itself a memorable and distinctive experience.
I was particularly impressed by the observations and insights of the group, including the students coming up with interpretations of the scenes that differ from convention and (in one case at least) I know have recently been proposed by researchers. It was a good hands-on exercise.
I don’t usually blog about teaching, but I thought this was a rather interesting thing to try to do. Supported by resources and reading online and in the library, this gives students a distinctive mode of engaging with textile as material culture.