Medieval Memes- The Subtext Behind Images of Life in “Tres Riches Heures”

The original posting and images can be viewed at


The inspiration for this lesson came from a twitter posting by @KQEDedspace this past Wednesday.

In that post, author Matthew Williams lays out a brief history of memes, provides tutorials for their creation using the imugr meme generator, and models an academic application for making memes.

That same day in class, my students had begun working with the ‘Tres Riches Heures,’ a French Gothic illumination that details late medieval life in each month of the calendar year. As little textual evidence survives that documents the everyday lives of “average” individuals, my students mined the images from the calendar to answer three questions:

  • What do you observe in your images?
  • How do you know it’s important?
  • What is the text/subtext conveyed by the artists?

Working in pairs and small groups, they created Google Docs that shared their initial thinkings about these images and their answers to these questions. When they returned to class the next day, I greeted them with the following page in the class VLE:

The page provided students with that day’s assignment and explained the connection to and application of their Google Docs. It linked, via embedded video, to the YouTube playlist that explained memes, the steps in creating them, and the academic application of them. Additionally, I provided my own example, based upon a popular background, because hey, if Icould do it, of course THEY could:

Finally, I provided a “Disclaimer about Memes in the wild” and the sometimes NSFW content they employ.

This disclaimer especially got the students’ attentions, and they were inquisitive as to why I would provide them access to a resource (imugr) that may at times, though not always, include material we may consider inappropriate. This led to a useful initial discussion about digital citizenship and censorship, and I included a link within the page to resources justifying my decision.

Students then self-selected whether to work as individuals or with their initial pairing/small group, and set to work with the resources provided them.

At the close of the period, students shared the imugr direct links to their created memes with me. Here is a selection of their work:

At the next class meeting, I will ask students to reflect in writing upon the words they chose to include in order to more explicitly convey the subtext they identified in their images. I also hope this reflection will help to clarify the depth of understanding I believe is emerging in my students’ thinking, as well as to justify this exercise to a critical audience that might otherwise see “just a silly exercise.”