Dr. Terry draws inspiration from ninth-century source to connect Medieval history and gardening

Upper school history teacher Dr. John Terry recently received recognition for his lesson entitled “Gardening with the Dead: A Medieval Monastic Practicum,” connecting medieval history and gardening. He drew inspiration for the lesson from his interests and his own research on a ninth-century poem titled Hortulus by Walafrid Strabo about a monastic garden.

 “I have a background in medieval history,” said Terry. “I did my doctoral work at the University of Virginia, and my main focus was ways people in that period interacted with the natural world.”

 He not only taught students about the way of life in the 800s by reading and studying the poem, but also had them physically act out the poem with the gardening to enhance their understanding. 

“The three main phases of the lesson are crash course, discussion and engagement with the source, and then going out and enacting the source,” Terry said. 

During the first class period, he taught students about medieval monastic culture. 

 “Men and women going into communities ideally kind of away from the world to pray, study, work, or make things,” Terry said.  

After he taught his students about the isolation lifestyle of the monastic, Terry and his class studied the source by Walafrid Strabo.

“I broke up the poem based on what crops I wanted people to research,” Terry said, “so there is a little section on celery, rosemary, sage, carrots, and things like that.” 

In the poem, Strabo explained their medicinal and dietary uses and other medieval foodways. The class had a discussion on food production and its importance in medieval times.

 With help from Discovery teacher and gardening clubs leader Emily Horne, Terry and his students got to work hands-on in the garden on the last day. Terry and Horne led the discussions while students worked, so they were able to act out what the poet described in the ninth century source. 

His lesson received recognition from a group called the Lone Medievalist, a scholarly organization that runs support programs for education and scholarship of medieval studies. His lesson also won the 2019 TEAMS (Teaching Association for Medieval Studies) Teaching Award for K-12 Educators. Upper School history teacher Julie Pace also won the same award in 2016. 

“I felt really thrilled to be recognized because my teaching and research is really personal to me,” Terry said.