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French Spotlight

“Gardening offers the unique joy of seeing a seed grow and develop through our care.”

Enlightenment from the Dark Ages

The medieval period...it can evoke images of swords and soldiers, ignorance and oppression, poverty and sadness—a murky phantasm that radiates gloom.

Yet, for at least one group of students at Transylvania, this period has come to represent something different. For students in the advanced French class La Nature: Littérature, Culture, et l’Environnement, references to the medieval period may instead conjure the simplicity of the agrarian life and an instinctive awe of the beauty of nature. It’s this perspective that infuses much of the writing of the era. 

Community garden 

French professor Simonetta Cochis asked her students to not only read about nature as it was portrayed by French authors spanning four centuries—including Voltaire, Rousseau, Bernardin de Saint Pierre, Zola, Giono, and de la Montluel—but to experience it. The students sowed and tended a garden on campus, within the confines of the city of Lexington. The garden represented a tranquil spot amidst a sea of modern complexity, where the students could connect with each other as they developed their own appreciation of life’s simple things.

illuminated manuscriptThe class also discussed some contemporary issues while at the garden, including the value of local food production, the importance of caring for the environment, and the concept of sustainability. Students kept journals that allowed them to ruminate about their experiences amid the natural world, where they were briefly removed from the cacophony of modern life.

As a non-traditional class setting, the Transylvania community garden offers students a shelter in the city, a safe place for learning and discovery where the allusions to nature in literary texts can be quietly explored. As students engage in the ageless activity of cultivating the land, they may, for example, reflect on the images found in medieval illuminated manuscripts, including Le Jardin De Santé (The Garden of Health), which Transylvania preserves in its Special Collections. 

Much like the middle ages, nature is full of mystery, periodic darkness, and flashes of splendor.  Reading about a subject is one way to learn, but getting your hands in some rich, dark soil and nurturing a simple seed into something more is truly knowing.

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