by Paul Serralheiro
A term as visiting professor at Yale University has taught Concordia's Robert Tittler a great deal.
At Yale for the winter 1998 semester (January to May), the specialist in English Reformation history taught a graduate seminar in the Reformation and Urban Society, as well as an undergraduate course. Tittler concluded that "Yale, more than any other North American university, is oriented toward English history."
The prestigious, extremely well-endowed American university has a Center for British Art, a Renaissance Studies program, and some unique research facilities, such as its extraordinary library of rare books. The experience at Yale brought Tittler into contact with many people in various disciplines, but all had the same passion for British history.
In the light of his Yale experience, Tittler said, some of the courses in our History Department stand up quite favourably, particularly the historiography course at the graduate level, for which Yale offers nothing comparable.
However, in "stark contrast" to Yale, where innovation is encouraged, some aspects of curriculum policy at Concordia do not support innovation.
"It is very difficult to innovate and offer an imaginative course if a minimum student enrolment is required," Tittler said. "The tendency is to teach safe courses. This policy may lead to rather standard and traditional courses."
Innovation, with increasing interdisciplinarity, is a continuing tendency in Tittler's work. When he left graduate school, his passion for his subject found expression in works of rather conventional historical biography on prominent political figures, leading to books on Nicholas Bacon and Queen Mary I.
An interest in the more widespread and tangibly political soon began to occupy him, resulting in studies with a larger, yet more localized sweep, based on extensive research in small towns in England. Resulting books were The Mid-Tudor Polity (1980), Architecture and Power (1991) and his most recent book, The Reformation and the Towns in England: Politics and Political Culture (1998).
"I have broadened my approach to answering questions about what is political history," Tittler said. He has given attention to town planning, architecture, furniture, regalia, portraiture and, most recently, dramatic literature, such as that of Shakespeare, John Webster and Ben Jonson.
Occupying him now is a volume of biographical essays focusing on common figures in the period 1540-1640, Tittler's area of expertise. Colourful characters such as a white-collar criminal, a spinster moneylender and a Puritan mayor who bans dramatic performances will make Tittler's research accessible to undergraduate students. "Their activities exemplify important issues. Each of these people illustrate something."
The interdisciplinary interest will find expression in a course Tittler will offer in the Faculty of Fine Arts in January 2000, to be titled Politics, Society and the Visual Arts in Renaissance England.
Tittler is a co-founder of the Montreal British History Seminar, a McGill-Concordia organization that meets several times a year and hears scholarly papers. He constantly tries "to reach out to other fields, to make connections, ways that help me learn about my subject." Ultimately, this can only enhance the classroom experience for his students.