Big Picture, Bristol Teaching Awards, BTA 2022 Shortlist, Individual award category, Inspiring and Innovative Teaching Award

Rowan Tomlinson

Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, Department of French

Return to the BTA shortlist page.

[Rowan] aimed to create a supportive space and encourage curiosity in so many ways, in things as small as the seating arrangements in class to big things like the types of assessments she set.

Rarely have I enjoyed writing an essay so much – Rowan truly empowered us to have confidence in our own voice and our readings of Montaigne.

I have felt encouraged to develop my own interpretations…and felt taken seriously by Rowan in my capacity as a ‘student researcher’.

[Rowan’s] emphasis on creativity (which I had never even thought about with essays!) and developing your own voice really helped me become more confident in my approach to planning an essay and developing my own response to academic literature in other units.

We asked Rowan how she felt about being nominated and shortlisted.

I’m delighted to have shared with students the exciting adventure into otherness that is the study of the past! It’s been a joy to hear them develop their individual voices, hazard ideas, and challenge contemporary assumptions and knowledge.  

I experimented with more creative modes of teaching – the podcast, unconventional forms of academic writing – during pandemic-struck maternity leave. My goal was to find new ways of bringing an author who so fascinates me into conversation with modern issues (feminism; fake news; sexuality; identity and race; death and religion; animal-human divides).  

It was Montaigne, the writer studied in this unit, who actually invented the ‘essay’ as a form, though over the centuries his experimental mode of writing has lost its free-wheeling and free-thinking qualities. Sadly, the academic essay today has little in common with these radical origins. Montaigne’s Essais are a space for possibility, anti-dogma, a series of thought experiments. I wanted to encourage students to embrace the creativity and risk-taking of Montaigne’s original conception of the ‘essay’ in their thinking and their writing; I was moved by the work that they did, and learned much from it. 

My units embrace research-led teaching but I believe as much in teaching-led research. Some of my students explored Montaigne’s challenges to colonialist assumptions about indigenous cultures in South America. Their excited reactions to this prehistory to the decolonization movement have in turn informed my research. At our School of Modern Languages Research Seminar, I’ve argued for why the early modern matters when it comes to decolonizing our curriculum and am currently co-authoring an article on the topic, ‘Why decolonization needs the early modern: 15 theses’.  

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