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Game of Thrones fires up medieval studies at US colleges

Harvard University, Boston College, University of California and Virginia Tech are offering medieval studies courses inspired by the Game of Thrones.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   23-01-2018
Game of Thrones

The gritty and wildly popular Game of Thrones television show set in medieval times has swept the globe like wildfire, and spurred enormous academic interest in the real Middle Ages. Harvard now offers a Game of Thrones-themed undergraduatemedieval studies course, and Boston College is tapping into demand to launch a graduate-level one in a few months from now in Spring 2018.

These medieval studies courses are just the latest in a slew of similarly themed courses offered at US campuses ranging from the University of California, in Berkeley to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Academics have praised the attention Game of Thrones has brought to the actual history and literature of the roughly 1,000 years long time period. In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or Medieval Period lasted from the 5th to the 15th Century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. 

With interest in the Game of Thrones at fever pitch, the final six episodes of the medieval drama are scheduled to air late in 2018 and will be simulcast across HBO’s territories including the United States, Europe, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam. The final season of Game of Thrones is guaranteed to touch off another round of fascination with the Middle Ages making medieval studies a popular course on campuses.

“Classes that touch on the subject have had to add spots for more students, and scholars at Harvard and Virginia Tech,” university officials told TIME Magazine, while adding, that that “Game of Thrones is the best recruitment tool for medieval studies and humanities courses since the Lord of the Rings films hit theaters.”

“Undergrads — or any fan inclined to look up whether something that happened on the show could have ever happened in real life — may come to medieval studies to meet the true-history versions of Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, but when they stick around, it’s often to learn that the real past is even more fascinating and nuanced than what HBO can bring to life,” reported TIME.

The Game of Thrones, based on the Song of Ice and Fire series written by George R. R. Martin, is a truly global phenomenon. And, capitalizing on the “Game of Thrones” popularity, academic publishing houses have produced volumes of scholarship inspired by the show. Kavita Vidya Mundan Finn, who has research and teaching interests in medieval and early modern literature, has edited an anthology of essays on Game of Thrones’ influence.

“Much is made of who will be gruesomely murdered each week on the hit show, though sometimes the question really is who won’t die a fiery death,” writes Finn, who has chronicled the fan phenomena.

“Often positioned as the grittier antithesis to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Martin’s narrative focuses on the darker side of chivalry and heroism, stripping away these higher ideals to reveal the greed, amorality, and lust for power underpinning them,” she adds.

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