Hobby Histories

To the Student

Renaissance Book Wheel (from http://kathiiberens.com/2013/05/15/dh306-a/)
Renaissance Book Wheel (from http://kathiiberens.com/2013/05/15/dh306-a/)

Hobby Histories is a class designed to make you better at writing and reading across many contexts and using multiple technologies. The best way to do this is to practice – a lot. You can expect to spend at least some time most days this semester practicing your written, oral, visual, electronic, and non-verbal communication skills. This particular section of English Composition uses the theme of hobbies to improve skills like public speaking, asking good questions, finding the answers, and communicating your findings.

We will begin by defining and studying hobbies from the outside, as a historian or literary critic might. We will ask questions such as:

“how has our relationship with leisure changed over the last few centuries?”

“who has participated historically in which hobbies and why?”

“how do advances in communication technology change the way hobby communities form?

To answer these questions (and to ask more precise versions of them) we will study religious and technological upheavals in the Renaissance. Royal proclamations defending many traditional leisure pursuits and angry pamphlets denouncing any sort of Sunday recreation will give us a window into contemporary thoughts on early hobbyism in our first few weeks. Then, we will turn to a famous Italian author who defined for many the qualities of his own set through a famous work of prose: The Book of the Courtier (1528). Castiglione, on his way to describing the skills of courtiership, catalogues many Renaissance leisure class hobbies and advised his readership about which ones to do, when to do them, and how to look good while doing them. We will next look at how the hobbies of a select few wealthy people become today’s widespread hobby phenomenon.

With the printing press, texts were distributed far beyond their original audiences. Technology then, as now with the Internet, created new affinity groups around something that would have at first been intended for a small, select circle. We will consider Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – in part a story, like Castiglione’s, about the pastimes of the leisure class, but told to a mass audience via stageplays and cheap printed quartos of the script. Through a comparative analysis of the playtext and various film versions of the play, we will think through how our relationship with hobbies has transformed in response to the major social and technological upheavals of the last five centuries.

The final part of our class explores hobbies and hobby communities from the inside rather than the outside. We will listen to what hobbyists say about themselves, their hobbies, and the challenges that face their affinity groups. We will discuss the hobby in popular culture and its relationship to affect and irony via the film Role Models and other representations of geeks and hobby communities. Students will also take part in leading discussions around how their specific hobby relates to the themes we have discussed more broadly.