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Opinion

Students experience learning, culture through Scotland program

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March 13, 2008

The following is written by English professor Marshall Toman, who is currently teaching in the Wisconsin in Scotland program. Since joining the University in 1988, Toman has coordinated the Ethnic Studies program and chaired the English department. He also taught on the International Traveling Classroom in the spring of 2006.

Opportunities are abundant to make history, literature and culture come alive for UW-River Falls students who travel on such programs as Wisconsin in Scotland (WIS), the International Traveling Classroom (ITS) and other study abroad programs offered at the University.

I am teaching two courses on the WIS program this semester, The Short Story and Arts and Ideas II: The Baroque to the Postmodern, where I often have an opportunity to connect the ideas or people we are studying about to the milieu in which they took their growth.

The result of an attempt to infuse Scottish short stories into the first of these two courses was that my students encountered a tale by James Hogg (1770-1835). Hogg was a bit more interesting to the students because both he and they had the same benefactor, the Duke of Buccleuch. Hogg wrote stories, poetry and an animal science treatise on sheep and their diseases. Many pastoral poets write as if they were shepherds. Hogg, a child in an impoverished rural district of Scotland, actually was one. He was also a genius.  Recognizing his ability, a local landlord opened his library to young James.  Self-taught, he went on to write many beloved lyrics, often set to song (students heard a number of his melodic compositions on CD), an epic poem about Mary Queen of Scots and a biography of Walter Scott. The Duke of Buccleuch, one of the wealthy landed nobility of Scotland, appreciating Hogg’s patriotism, bestowed a farm upon Hogg in order to allow him a guaranteed income and thus more time to write.

Dalkeith House, the 18th century manor house that WIS uses for instruction and to house its students and faculty, is rented from the current Duke of Buccleuch.

Outlining Napoleon’s career for students in the Arts and Ideas course, I mentioned that he was defeated at sea by Admiral Nelson, whose statue at Trafalgar Square in London was bound to be seen by some of the students on their imminent travels during the first (of two) “extended weekend” (no classes or field trips scheduled Thursday through Sunday).

When it came time to mention Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo, I asked who is credited with this victory. Though, of course, our reading materials had mentioned the commander of the forces arraigned against Napoleon, it was the sort of question that should ordinarily not expect an answer from a typical general education course audience, unless there happens to be, as sometimes, a military enthusiast in it.

Therefore, I had devised, and even hoped for, a wee field trip to the marble hall of Dalkeith House-one doorway away from where we were currently conducting class in front of a roaring fire in the dining hall. In the marble hall, with its beautiful white marble floor and white marble grand staircase covered in impeccably-laid black, green and blue tartan, is a statue of the Duke of Wellington.

However, in this group of students, Emily Thell (History and German, UWRF) knew the answer.  When I mentioned that she had saved the class a field trip to the hall, she withdrew the answer.  Nonetheless, the consensus was that staying by the fire was preferable.

In J. S. Mills’s “Autobiography,” also studied for this course, Thomas Carlyle’s very persuasive theory of how to be happy is embraced. I asked Liz, who had just enthusiastically visited Edinburgh’s portrait gallery, a gorgeous dark red neogothic building with marvelous interior friezes, marble halls, busts and paintings, if she had seen a statue of Carlyle recently. (Upon entering, you see statues or busts of the Scottish literary triumvirate, Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Walter Scott; if you turn 135 degrees to your right, a large statue of Carlyle occupies that corner). She didn’t remember any. But the museums here are free and open to a second or third trip, as museums should be visited.

Mill also mentions his controversies with the “Edinburgh Review,” the influential 19th-century opinion journal, still functioning today from near where it had its origins in 1802, 22 Buccleuch Place by the University Edinburgh.  Students pass the university frequently on trips to the capital from Dalkeith.

The concrete experience of place has an important effect on one’s intellectual development. Situated within the Dalkeith context students learn extremely well. And it is easy to expand the context in their travels, which so far have included London, Dublin, Cardiff, Bath, Salisbury, Stonehenge, Liverpool (some students at the university today are still interested in The Beatles), Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona.

Marshall Toman is a professor of English at UW-River Falls.