Big Picture layout, Bristol Teaching Awards

Rowan Tomlinson

Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, Department of French

View the BTA winners gallery. – View the BTA shortlist gallery.

[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.

The seminars for this unit were very interactive, really encouraging us to relate these Renaissance concepts to our own lives. Rowan made sure that the content was in line with our interests and was happy to set extra reading or adapt pre-seminar tasks if any of us showed particular enthusiasm for a certain subject.

Rowan taught with such enthusiasm and the unit was so coherently structured that I really felt drawn in by every single week and excited to go to seminars. I’m in my final term at university now and I can definitely say that this was the best unit I have taken at Bristol.

It is Rowan’s love for her subject, her dedication to students, and her thinking outside the box when providing new opportunities of growth for students that make me believe that she should be recognised for this with the Teaching Award.

She was very personal in her teaching – at the end of the unit she made a handout with the abstracts from all our essays and a mock-up of what they would look like if they were published to encourage us to take ourselves seriously in the academic sphere, which was incredibly thoughtful of her.

She was very understanding of our personal learning styles and attitudes to learning, making her office hours a safe space to rant about uni where necessary and checking in on us throughout classes instead of just talking at us. I’m so glad I had Rowan teach me.

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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