Throughout this past week, many of my professors started the first day of class with the same question, “What did you do over the summer?” In years past, I have always had a very mundane response: I worked or maybe took a family vacation, nothing out of the ordinary. However, this summer I did something very out of my comfort zone and attended Field School for Archaeology through Geneseo’s Study Abroad program. For one month I lived in a tent and excavated land that was occupied by the Hopewell Indians between 1600 and 2100 years ago. Not shockingly, the next statement was always, “Oh, so you’re an anthropology major.”
You can imagine the confusion that overcame my professors when I explained that no, I am in fact not an anthropology major, but a double major in Business Administration and English. Everyone assumes that because I participated in a summer program that is in a specific discipline (anthropology), that I must want to be an anthropologist. People can not grasp the concept that I am interested in something that has absolutely nothing to do with my majors or future career paths. When I try to explain that I simply really enjoy the study of archaeology and wanted to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity, they get uncomfortable and smile and move on.
While reading Interdisciplinarity by Joe Moran, I was struck with the feeling that he was trying to describe how I feel every time someone questions why I would waste my time attending Field School when it is so outside of the disciplines I am studying. I agree with the critique of the academic disciplines that he references frequently, that they are limited and confining. I like the idea of interdisciplinarity, or at least how I understand it, that there should be more of a flow between the academic disciplines, creating an engagement between them. In my mind, the idea of interdisciplinary is like that of a liberal arts college, it allows a student to get a taste of every academic discipline to become a well rounded and cultured member of society.
My interdisciplinary adventure this summer allowed me to experience academics in a new way. Instead of studying from my Business Law textbook or analyzing the syntax in a poem I was plowing through dirt looking for variations in the plow zone and recording it in a archaeological journal. I learned just as much as I would have in a traditional semester class, if not more because I learned about myself by experiencing a world I was in no way a part of before. I learned leadership skills, since everyday a new member of the group was assigned to be in charge, skills that will help me in the world of business. I also took part in creative writing during my time there; we were expected to journal about our experiences throughout the trip, allowing me to work on my writing skills without being an English class. Learning these skills that are theoretically specific to distinct academic disciplines in a field that has nothing to do with them proves that the idea of interdisciplinarity is a valid one. This allows me to fully appreciate the idea of interdisciplinarity and the importance of it for all students.
At my grandmother’s eightieth birthday party I was sucked into a conversation with my grandfather that I will never forget. He is definitely not the kind of person to conceal his opinion. Unfortunately, he is of the same mindset as many others that the study of English in a college or university will not get you anywhere, make you any money off of which to live. “Have you thought about the sciences?” He’d asked me. “You know, they’re giving out a lot of scholarships for women to go into engineering and things like that.” Yeah, Grandpa, I know.
I suppose he was only worried, but what he didn’t seem to understand is that the study of English is interdisciplinary. As referenced in Joe Moran’s Interdisciplinarity, the American education system has constructed a poor system for the study of English, labeling it as a singular discipline, a “science” of its own. This is true for all of the disciplines, or majors (as called by the universities), which have been divided. Moran references British literary critic F. R. Leavis, who states that specialization in one field allows a more complete and precise knowledge of the discipline, however, English must be regarded as “necessarily interdisciplinary” (Moran 26).
These chasms between the disciplines, I believe, injure a student’s ability to be well-rounded, and as an English student, one must be. English includes the study of literature and society, and to do so one must understand the world in which he or she is living. Said chasms also are detrimental to the acceptance of all disciplines. English is looked down upon in some regards. Every “major” has acquired some sort of stereotype or reputation, and this dissuades some from dipping their hands into a healthy variety of information.
I am certain that my grandfather only wants the best for me; he believes in the deepest corners of his soul that I would have a more prosperous life if I were to major in another discipline, one that the majority of the population appears to deem as “useful”. However, as English itself is such an interdisciplinary subject naturally, would that not open up a variety of opportunities in life after graduation?
One of my first encounters with SUNY Geneseo was for an overnight stay, and it was during this experience that I had my first true exposure to a casual analysis of our disciplinary society.
The two roommates who were hosting myself and another potential Geneseo student walked us to their residence hall on that cold April afternoon and, with the eager intent of distracting me and my companion from the blustering campus chill and awkwardness of first encounters, brought up an internet forum that was popular among the students at the college. One of our hostesses fondly remembered what she thought to be a humorous controversy between students of various majors in this forum. In this instance, individuals anonymously, although violently, fought with each other in regards to which major was the most challenging to study in terms of workload and concept. Thinking back, I can understand that the students were, amidst their cries for sympathy, trying to establish a “hierarchy of majors.”
As discussed in Joe Moran’s book, Interdisciplinarity, society has felt the push to organize knowledge into certain disciplines that do not, or cannot, mix. The result of this push was interestingly described by an anthropologist, who emphasized the hostility and alertness that exists from students of one major toward those of another major, especially in each other their own “territories” (Moran, 12). This analogy is surprisingly accurate when observing university students today. We are all separated both into and by our majors, and while some students may double major or minor, such as in Biology as well as Spanish, that is only standing the subjects next to each other, but keeping the divider down the middle.
Although Moran idealizes a society in which knowledge does not need to be broken down into bite-sized pieces (sliced into distinct disciplines/majors) the fact of the matter is that such a world is almost impossible to achieve. Specialization is what leads to success in a field, by limiting the researcher’s scope (Moran, 7). University students today seem to grasp that idea, although it has mutated into a, perhaps unhealthy, attachment to our distinct majors. How can we, as students, embrace both the freedom of interdisciplinarity as well as the necessity of specialization?
There are so many different majors available to college students. Many students follow a desired path and know that a job will likely open up to them in the future because they will have been preparing for their future career in college. A student can go for science, math, engineering, history, language, or law among countless others, but then there is English. Out of all the academic departments, English has the worst reputation of all. And if you think about it, it is quite strange; we use English every single day of our lives. But to an outsider, a person majoring in English simply means that we have no intentions of getting a job in the future, or that have no passions that we wish to pursue.
As Moran states, “English does not make a strong connection between education and training for future careers” (Moran 18). This is entirely true. But is that really a bad thing? It just simply means that we don’t have a set plan for what we will be doing after we earn our degree. In my opinion, that makes an English degree that much more desirable. Your options are endless; you can do anything that you want once you take the right steps to earning the degree. You are not tied down to being just an engineer, for example. You will be able to use the skills and knowledge that come with an English degree that will lead you to your own unique path. The things you learn in English are used on an everyday basis, which will be very beneficial for those majoring in English.
With an English degree, everything opens up to us, so why does being an English major often come with an array of jokes? Why is an English degree viewed as a joke itself? No one will ever know. Therefore, we must continue to face the classic McDonald’s joke of “What do you say to an English graduate? Big Mac and fries, please.” (Moran 19) until we can educate others on the value that an English degree holds. But we shouldn’t let it get under our skin anyways, because we know that English can open up several doors to us that other degrees can’t. We are not tied down to solely one outcome. Since it appears that the jokes will never subside about the lackluster jobs that are in our future, nor will the bad reputation that English majors receive, all we can do it try to teach others of the importance of an English degree and encourage the youth of our country to not get roped into doing something they aren’t passionate about because someone told them, at one time or another, that if they pursue their love for English, it will only lead them straight to a dead end path. When in actuality, we are simply taking the ‘path less traveled by.’
Breathing heavily and watching my best friend’s hand turn a concerning purple in my own, I was sitting in an airport terminal at the end of my first semester of college. I had never been on a plane, and as I prepared myself to fly home for winter break, I considered my imminent death and the pointlessness of my life as it came to its inevitable close.
Continue reading “English Academia v. English Careers”
The language Joe Moran uses in introductory to Interdisciplinarity chapter is vague and frivolous, first exemplified in his opening paragraph when he calls “how we organize knowledge into disciplines…stale, irrelevant, inflexible, or exclusory” (Moran 1). The words “irrelevant” and “inflexible” alone would have easily made Moran’s point. Moran, later in the introduction, excuses himself for his use of language by accusing the English language itself for not having words that are accurate enough to describe what he means by “interdisciplinarity” (14). But I am pretty sure that the real reason he finds it so difficult to explain himself is because in this day and age true interdisciplinarity is impossible.
We have too much information available for us not to classify knowledge into different disciplines. It used to be that science, economics, and philosophy were all studied under the umbrella term of “philosophy.” But once more information, theories, and discussions became about, this true interdisciplinarity became an old frame, and new categories evolved. The development of the scientific method eventually established a defined line between what is and is not science, thus pushing out other disciplines all together . The conversations in the individual discipline are too specific to be combined. Moran himself is guilty of this because the introduction to his book reads as if the target audience are members of his own discipline – philosophy. Throughout the introduction Moran makes unexplained allusions and references to philosophers and their philosophical works under the assumption that the reader is familiar with the works (Moran 9-13).
Additionally, it is the people who are making the most field advances, the most highly educated, who are also the most specialized. There is too much knowledge for there to be Renaissance Men like Leonardo DaVinci who made advances in every discipline. While it may do a science researcher a bit of good to take a writing class, so as to say, improve his or her research grant requests, I do not think it would be a good idea, for, say, an oncologist to study the works of Nietzsche. Although the analysis skills one would develop from studying literature could help anyone, from a mathematician to a salesman with everyday tasks, basic problem solving, communicating effectively, and even possibly in their own fields- the fact of the matter is that advances are made in specific fields by specialists. In order to better learn about our world and solve its many problems, we need specialization. An example of this would be a trip to your general practitioner’s office. Have an eye infection? You get referred to an Opthamologist. Worried about a skin rash? You see a dermatologist. Moran, himself, even makes my point saying that individuals who “limit themselves to certain closely defined fields and controlled situations…produce apparently clearer, more rigorous and effective samples of ‘useful knowledge’” (Moran 7).
I know this is late but I found a few clips in reference to Dickens, A Christmas Carol and our discussion about Pagan traditions adopted by Christians. Enjoy! I also found a video in reference to the Cromwell and Puritan laws which we discussed as well. Both are rather silly but make the point pretty well.
Cromwell Puritan Laws
Big Bang Theory explanation of Pagan customs as Christmas
The Hours is a rather atypical novel. I think it is quite fair to say that it does not embrace original thought to the extent that, say, either of the Alice novels do. Rather than playing on cultural norms and making use of allusions, Cunningham has taken a text and extrapolated from it. There is no longer one Virginia Woolf and Clarissa Dalloway. There is Clarissa Vaughan a character who is Clarissa Dalloway in a modern context, able to pursue her love for Sally, and able to also pursue her own political motivations. There is Woolf as well, her mind now an accessible place for readers. It’s as though Cunningham has given us the frame of mind that Woolf had while writing Mrs. Dalloway. He has extrapolated from the original text his own literary view, one that he puts forth in his own novel. Alice makes use of cultural interpolation. Not in the sense that Carroll did not write parts of the book, but that he considered society and British culture and parodied them within his novel. In a similar way, Cunningham has taken Mrs. Dalloway but has taken the text, rather than culture, as the primary source for his own novel. Through the lens of that text, the context of a single day, he seeks to revisit much of which Woolf originally addressed. Although this is an apt comparison, I’m curious to know what others have to say about the extent to which this occurs within these two novels.
One of the greatest accomplishments of a good piece of literature is not showing what a historical figure actually said, but what they could have said. A single anecdote can relate more about a figure than anything else. Victor Hugo never uses the line “to love another person is to see the face of God” within Les Mis, nor did Marie Antoinette say “let them eat cake,” and Voltaire, another famous Frenchman, never said “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” although this statement is certainly in line with his philosophy. It is the fact that they could have said it that is so significant and sheds light on them in relation to their context and history. And this is, I think, what Cunningham seeks to accomplish with The Hours. And perhaps because of this it is the deepest and most intricate interpretation of a work we have read thus far in the semester. By extrapolating he has created a new and profound discussion of the work of Woolf and its implications. And he has not simply put words in her mouth, but established an entire narrative on the idea that her work carries weight and resonates through time to present-day. It’s as though the story of Mrs. Dalloway impossible to confine because it applies so readily to each of our lives. And what is Cunningham’s conclusion? That we live for those few precious hours that drip away and come very rarely within the drought of life.
I had thought to post this earlier in the year, but decided not to, thinking it was irrelevant. Having been inspired in class today, I thought I’d share.
If you know the group Fleet Foxes, this may pique your interest. Listen to the song “White Winter Hymnal” before reading on (or as you continue to read). As you listen, think about the images the music and lyrics evoke. What do you feel? What does this song make you think about? If you feel inclined, write these things down, and bear those thoughts and images in mind.
Next, listen to the song again, but this time watch the official video the group put out for the song. Remembering what hearing only the song called to your mind; what did this video accompanying the song do to these images you conjured? Do you feel differently about what you just heard? Did you find yourself thinking about completely different things? Or perhaps you feel the same. In my experience, the video really alters the interpretation, and does this nearly permanently, as the prescribed images really stick in my head. (If you want to see how much they’ve stuck, wait a few hours and listen to just the song again. what do you see, feel, etc.?) I think you’ll be surprised by the difference you experience.
This demonstrates what meaning we can derive from one type of media, and how another can drastically influence the other. To relate it to class, think about the Alice books and the Disney adaptation and how they differ and relate. Or more recently, how The Hours (film) differs from the novel.
another song you might try this with: “Montana” – Youth lagoon (video here for after listening to just the song)
Something very interesting about this track is that it’s lyrics are very difficult to understand, save a few words here and there. Thus this song , as it relates to the theme of my post, weighs in more on the sounds in the first listen, comparing that to the images from the video.