CREATING AUTHENTIC LEARNING THROUGH THE DANTE JOURNAL OF SINGAPORE
Andrew Hui, Assistant Professor of Literature, Humanities Division
Reading Dante’s Divine Comedy for the first time is a confounding and exhilarating experience for anyone. Confounding because there is so much stuff that you need to know to understand the poem; exhilarating because Dante presents to you the sublime and terrifying grandeur of his cosmic vision. The only prerequisite for reading is an experience of the human condition. So anyone can pick up the poem and get something out of it.
In the first semester of the 2015-2016 academic year—the third in Yale-NUS’s young life—I taught a course on the Commedia. It was my first time teaching my own seminar, the first time Dante was taught at the College, and, to my knowledge, the first time in Singapore. With the TIG, I was able to transform six student essays from this class on Dante into The Dante Journal of Singapore.
I was, as it were, the Virgil to a group of ten Dantes. For three months, for three hours a week, we read, carefully and intensely and philologically, every single word of the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. We paid special attention to the historical, intellectual and social world of the European Middle Ages and the fraught legacy of the classical tradition (we also read the entirety of Virgils Aeneid, chunks of Ovid and the Bible along the way). We discussed theology and revelation, the state of souls in the afterlife, the primacy of poetry as an intellectual and spiritual activity, the nature of art and beauty, the relationship between pagan myths and Christian mysteries, and the medieval encyclopaedia of classical learning and medieval religious doctrine.
I am honored to present six essays of the highest caliber in the The Dante Journal of Singapore, which now exists in print and online thanks to the generous funding of the TIG. The essays in the journal represent the students travelogue, by now a two-year journey. These
are all pieces of undergraduate research that make a real contribution to the 700-year old tradition of Dante scholarship.
This publication allowed me to build an ”authentic learning experience” for my students. Whereas most final papers in class are quickly written and then summarily hidden away and forgotten, we worked on them, refined them, and made them exponentially better than any end-of-term paper. By making them revise and then showcase to the public their hard work, the contributors learned the process of journal submission, revision, responses to the editor and peer review. Student editors also learned the process of running a journal. These are essential skills not only for the students who wish to go on to graduate school, but also for any professional field involving writing.