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Student Explores the Connections Between Aristotle and Chaucer

Jul 02, 2018


professor and student sitting in libraryRandolph-Macon College student Tanner McClelland '19 is spending much of his time this summer surfing—but instead of water, he's diving into research.

McClelland is participating in R-MC's SURF (Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship) program, a 10-week session in which students conduct full-time research under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

An English major and education and psychology minor, he is researching a topic that has intrigued him for some time: whether Aristotle's ethics influenced Geoffrey Chaucer's models of friendship in The Canterbury Tales. His project, Aristotelean Ethics of Friendship in the Canterbury Tales, is a natural fit for McClelland, who is mentored by English Professor Amy Goodwin, a Chaucer expert.

Searching for Answers
"I don't think you can be an English major and dislike Chaucer," he explains. "I've taken a couple classes on Chaucer and I hope, through this research, to gain an even greater appreciation for his influence. And any opportunity to study Aristotle is one that I will jump on. I hope through my research that I will land on what the great thinker meant for us to know."

Ethics + Models of Friendship
McClelland explains that, in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, the philosopher lays out three types of friendships that he believes exist among people: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and "true" or "excellent" friendships.

"Somewhere along the 6th century, a Roman scholar named Boethius translated some of Aristotle's work into Latin, while he wrote his most popular text, The Consolation of Philosophy," says McClelland. "Chaucer is also known, in part, for his translation of Boethius' The Consolation of Philosophy, in a medieval work titled Boece. I'm looking for connections between Aristotle's ethics and Chaucer's models of friendship."

Intensive research calls for dedication and planning, and McClelland is disciplined and organized. He plans out three reading sessions per day, spending up to six hours in the McGraw-Page Library.

"My first session goes for a little over two and a half hours," he says. "After lunch, I'll go back and read for another two to two and a half hours. To cap a typical day, I'll read whatever I have left to get through."

McClelland enjoys the challenges that come with research. He also knows that mentorship is critical to his success as a researcher and scholar.

"I wouldn't have a SURF project if it weren't for Professor Goodwin," he says. "When I took her History of the English Language course in 2017, we talked about the SURF program. The project idea I had at that time, however, was much different from the one I'm doing. Professor Goodwin and I continued to work together to reach where we are now." The two meet twice a week for lunch and discussion. "She is a well-established Chaucerian, and her knowledge is invaluable," says McClelland.

"It is great working with Tanner," says Goodwin, who has mentored four other SURF students throughout the years. "It's not at all easy to read the works of Aristotle, and Tanner surprises me with his insights and his ideas about how to use Aristotle to investigate Chaucer's representation of relationships in The Canterbury Tales. I love to witness the discovery process that SURF students experience—they become more and more engaged as their research unfolds—and to share in their excitement."

Campus Life + Future Plans
A Presidential Scholar, McClelland is also a member of the lacrosse team; serves as a writing tutor in the Higgins Academic Center; is a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee; and has published several works in The Stylus, a journal of creative writing produced by the English Department. He has a feature article published in The Coil, and one of his poems will be published in the August issue of The Poetry Box, an online poetry collective.

His future plans reflect his passion for English, teaching and writing.

"I'd like to teach English at the secondary level," he says. "My goal is to teach my way through graduate school. If things go well from there, I'd like to become a professor of English and write poetry."