Sonoma State University English professor Brantley Bryant, author of Middle English modern satire "Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog," is spearheading the creation of an online open access companion to Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" that will be free for students to use as a resource for studying the classic text.
"Scholars nation-wide are contributing to professor Bryant's project," says Karen Schneider, dean of the Sonoma State University Library. "He's quite the scholar in this area, and he's got great intrapersonal and entrepreneurial skills."
Bryant is a medievalist scholar whose book (which started and still exists as an actual blog) transports legendary author Geoffrey Chaucer from the medieval period to the digital age. Now, with the organization of an editorial collective, he and four other medievalists are in the process of compiling the open access companion to Canterbury Tales. It will be a free, high quality resource, featuring essays by more than 25 scholars from different institutions.
"The goal is to empower new audiences to critically examine the tales," says Bryant.
"The Canterbury Tales" is comprised of many sub-stories, told by characters on pilgrimage to the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Each character is unique, which makes for an interesting read. "It's like a kaleidoscope," says Bryant, "where every tale is a different aspect of life."
The Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales is designed to provide resources for a better understanding of the text rather than to introduce plot, and while it will not assume readers are masters of medieval British literature, it does expect active engagement.
"One of our goals is to enable medieval literature to speak to present-day concerns and questions," says Bryant. "Even though the Canterbury Tales are from the 1390's, students are often surprised by the modern intersections."
This project is an example of a national trend by professors who incorporate open textbooks to their curriculum to help alleviate the rising cost of attending college.
"We're all concerned about how students juggle work and school," says Schneider. "So the goal is to get a quality textbook in every student's hand, and the open education resource movement is a way to make sure students have the access they need."
Bryant had the idea for a free companion to Canterbury Tales years ago, and found no shortage of qualified contributors in the call for papers this year. "It's been incredibly heartening," says Bryant. "A sign that there's tremendous intellectual generosity among teachers and scholars." With the recruitment process successful, Bryant and the editorial collective are now planning the logistics of the first volume, which will likely be published next year.
"Literature is something like visiting a strange place, where both scary and beautiful things can happen," says Bryant. "Anyone who gets a chance to visit is richer for it."