Case Studies in Class

I know many of you already do this, and you have inspired me to try it out. I had heard of case studies for the natural and social sciences – posing a problem to students and having them work out a solution based on reading/lecture what have you. I wondered if it would work in the Humanities.

This semester I am trying it out, and in the last class, it worked very well. This semester I am experimenting with different engagement “tactics” in my Art of the Medieval World class. Last week I used a case study. We were going to be talking about the shift in church design under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian from basilica plans (long hallways) to domed, circular spaces. My thesis from research I have done was that this was influenced by theological writings in the sixth century by Dionysius the Areopogite.

For the case study, I put them in groups of three and gave them texts from Dionysius. As Byzantine architects, they were given a charge from the “Emperor” to come up with a new and glorious church design that reflected the new theological ideas. I brought in large pieces of papers and markers for them to work out and draw their plan. Some did this in the time allotted (about 20 minutes) and some had to draw outside of class.

On Tuesday this week they had to present their designs. What was amazing is that they all came up with a) different plans and b) plans that *had actually been built* at some time during the Middle Ages. All of them. And all of them included a dome in their design, which was EXACTLY the point of Dionysius, who was writing all about hierarchy, which translates into a vertical axis in church design (hence the dome). I was fascinated by how “right” they were, and how they were able to take the theological writings, comprehend them, and then apply them to a new situation. I will be trying more things like this in the future.

Can anyone share a similar type of assignment here on the BLOG? If so, please do feel free to leave a comment.


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