Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hallowed Halls And Houses: Field Trips Part 1

I’ve been trying to study for a quiz tomorrow, which is probably not a big deal but which is very intimidating because of the sheer amount of material we’ve covered. I’m very unmotivated. Instead (for irony’s sake, I guess) I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on how Oberlin and its lack of actual testing in social science and humanities classes have kind of ruined my study skills.

I learned my shit in Amy Margaris’s archaeology and human origins classes because I had to. Ditto for my history class about humankind’s relationships with animals. I half-ass learned my shit in my Classics courses—and it showed. The rest of my history and anthro classes were basically in one ear and out the other, if they even got that far. Sure, I’ve forgotten a lot from the classes I had exams in, but I’m sure it would come back to me with a little reminding. Meanwhile, I barely remember anything from the ones I wasn’t tested in, except for what I researched on my own for papers. Maybe it doesn’t really matter, but I’m positive some of that would have been useful to me in the future. And maybe I would have been overwhelmed if I’d had to remember all of it AND write papers and do projects, but as it was I wasn’t motivated to learn much of it at all because it wasn’t going to affect my grade and my other work was.

I think what I’m getting at here is that I might do better in this system.*

Of course, since I’m only here for one semester and will therefore end up having to write extra papers instead of sitting exams anyway, we may never know for sure.

Anyway, I promised an update about the field trips I’ve been on, so here goes:

We covered a LOT of ground the first day out, starting with an early medieval ringfort. They are apparently the most common type of archaeological site in Ireland (there are thousands of them), which is partly because a lot of them were left alone over the centuries because there was all kinds of folklore about fairies living in them and stuff like that. There wasn’t a lot to see, although I will put up some super-exciting (that’s sarcasm) photos later on. It’s all overgrown and there aren’t any structures left except for part of the embankments.

But it is on somebody’s farm, and you do have to troop across a pasture and through two gates to get to it, and there are cows watching you the whole time. So that was pleasantly familiar, and I think that probably had more to do with the big stupid grin on my face when we walked into the fort than the actual fort did. (Although, I was a lot more respectful of the site itself than some of my giggling, complaining classmates.)

But you know, I think I’d take barbed wire and fire ants over electric fences.

The next stop was Ballinacarriga Tower House, which was built in the fifteenth century. A tower house is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. This one is up on a steep hill and looks very imposing even as a ruin.

And after we stood outside and looked around for a while, and Dr. Ó Carragáin (look, I learned!) talked about its history and defensive features, he produced a big key and led us over to the barred metal door.

Some people started wondering aloud why he has a key, but I was pretty much going, “You’re seriously going to let me roam around inside a medieval fortress that hasn’t been touristified with signs and cleaning up and sections blocked off?!” Big stupid grin again.

It wasn’t actually as exciting as I thought it would be, and we didn’t get to explore all of it, just the ground floor and up the narrow winding staircase to the top floor, which was once a chapel (there are interesting carvings on the windows) and which is now open to the air because the roof is long gone. (As are all the wooden floors on the middle levels, leaving vast empty space inside most of the tower except for some small rooms along the front and sides that are entirely of stone, floors included.) But it was still pretty cool, at least partly because it’s not a tourist site. It is dark and dirty and sad, except for the chapel, which is bright and beautiful and sad.

We stopped for lunch at a hotel in Clonakilty, which is the village where Michael Collins was born, where we were given vast numbers of sandwiches. Afterwards, we saw another ruined stone house, this time bigger and less fortified and built in the early 1600s. We weren’t allowed to go in that one because it’s basically at the point of disrepair at which chunks of wall might fall on you at any moment. (Unlike Ballinacarriga, which is under the protection of some government organization, this house has not been preserved in any way and is now probably too far gone for anyone to start.)

The last place we went was Drombeg Stone Circle, high on a hill overlooking the ocean. It’s smaller than you might expect (rather than being disappointing, it just makes Stonehenge look all the more impressive), but very, very beautiful. I think that meant more to me than the tower house did, even though where Europe is concerned I normally think I’m more interested in the historic than the prehistoric.

So, that was a long day, but it was a very good day. I took lots of pictures. And it was really nice, for me, at least, to be out in the field poking around things (not to mention things you have to hike to from the road because they’re in the middle of a field or because the last stretches of roads are too narrow for a bus) and getting dirty and sweaty instead of staring at a Powerpoint—even if paved country roads in a chartered bus don’t really compare to being bounced down dirt lanes in the back of a pickup truck.

* I definitely pay attention better in an intelligent lecture than in a discussion class full of pompous idiots who think they’re intelligent. I’m also more likely to participate if a direct question is asked in a lecture than if I’m just expected to contribute to a class discussion. But I could have told you all that years ago.

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