Friday, January 22, 2010

Geography

The first quiz of the quarter indicates that my survey students nearly all studied and paid attention in class, although of course not to an equal degree. That's not to say they scored remarkably well, but it was clear that most of them had a pretty good grip on things even if many people got the Annunciation confused with the Visitation and that sort of thing.
I'm afraid, however, that most of them do not know much geography, despite my showing maps and pointing out where things are. This was glaringly obvious in the two most geographically oriented questions.
It was not so terrible in the case of the question of which Tuscan city-state, rival to Florence, was the home of the painter Duccio. While few people correctly filled in Siena, most of the answers were Italy-related: Venice, Rome, Assisi, Pisa, and Milan were popular choices. Not correct, but not bizarre. The answers Italy and Tuscany were more strange, indicating that those people weren't clear on the concept of a city-state versus a country or region. When I saw "Vienna" and "Bohemia," however, I was perturbed.
I suppose it was stupid of me to include a question (hey, I got these from the textbook publisher, and I tried to pick questions I thought my students could reasonably answer) that involved filling in the capital of Bohemia, home of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. But I was thinking that we did cover art from Bohemia, and that Prague is a famous city.
Well, I did give half credit to the person who put KarlĹĄtejn, because we examined the chapel and paintings there and it's just south of Prague. But nearly the whole class gave answers that included Constantinople, Dijon, "Broche" (I think this was a misspelling of Bruges), Cannes, Florence, Tuscany, Paris, "Crucia" (?), Avignon, and finally the Czech Republic.
This kind of thing makes me think I need to give map quizzes like we used to have in my 7th-grade geography class. The problem with that idea is that if they don't know where modern cities and countries are, it doesn't seem wise to confuse the issue too much with placement of the likes of Burgundy (capital: Dijon) and the Holy Roman Empire. I mean, I'll be content if they have a reasonable notion of these things and stop saying Paris and Constantinople were the capital of Bohemia.
It kind of reminds me of Neville Chamberlain's infamous 1938 remark about Czechoslovakia being a faraway land about which we know little.
On the plus side, most of my students seem clear on flying buttresses, rose windows, the purpose of the Palazzo Vecchia, and the fact that lead is used to hold stained glass windows together. This makes me happy.

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