Professor Callahan shows students a model of Chartes Cathedral. A virtual tour is
in the background.
Illinois Wesleyan Instructor Takes Students to France via Internet
May 21, 2007
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Right now, Illinois Wesleyan University Associate Professor of
French Christopher Callahan should be walking up the steps to the Solesmes Abbey with
the chants of the Benedictine monks echoing all around. Callahan planned to bring
students to France and England to explore Gothic and Romanesque cultures, but he was
halted in his plans by the high cost of travel.
“We could not make the trip financially feasible. The dollar is not doing well against
the cost of the euros and pounds,” said Callahan from his office overlooking IWU’s
Eckley Quadrangle in Bloomington, Ill., which is a long way from the castles and abbeys
where he hoped to travel with students this spring during the University’s May Term.
“It’s difficult for Americans to get abroad right now.”
Callahan estimated it would take 24 students to make the trip affordable, but fell
short of that. Instead of canceling the class, he decided on another option. While
researching material for his class, The Plantagenet World: France and England 1100-1400, Callahan discovered Web sites that included virtual tours.
Now sitting at his computer, he uses the mouse to pan 360 degrees to tour through
the breathtaking Conques Abbey in southwestern France. The image on the screen angles
up to the impossibly high ceilings and Romanesque arches. “With the help of the Internet,
we can even go where tourists usually don’t,” said Callahan, maneuvering the image
to peer down from a balcony onto the altar below.
Callahan plans to take his class on several virtual tours, including sites in Paris,
London and the Loire Valley of France. “This is something that was not conceivable
even two years ago,” said Callahan.
It will not be the same as being there, Callahan knows. “This will give students a
fairly good sense of the architecture and accomplishments, but they can’t possibly
get a sense of the sounds and smells that make it all real,” he said. Still, Callahan
said there are benefits. “When you are on the road, it’s difficult to find classroom
space for 25 or 30 students. If there is an important point I need to tell them,
I don’t have their undivided attention while they are walking in a grand cathedral,”
he said. “In terms of actual physical experience, they will have to imagine a lot,
but for intellectual foundations, we’ll be better able to appreciate the visual and
Students may not be able to stand in the nave of Gothic and Romanesque abbeys or walk
down the streets of Paris, but Callahan hopes they will still come away with a better
understanding of life in that time. His course includes teaching such things as various
forms of music, architecture and even social expectations for sons and daughters during
the time of the Plantagenet rule. “When we think of the Middle Ages, we think of this
gloomy time where life was too regimented. We’re cut off from how playful people could
Contact: Rachel Hatch (309) 556-3960