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Park Hall Monitor

Park Hall Monitor

Jed Rasula - Dept HeadThese are said to be daunting times for the humanities. Scarcely a day goes by, it seems, without an article in a major news media outlet tracking the flight of students from liberal arts to business schools and STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math). The escalating cost of higher education is just one of many factors pressuring students and their families to regard college education as a job-placement service. Universities are under increasing pressure to make themselves over as vocational schools, something that used to be reserved for those who couldn’t make it into college in the first place. The liberal arts have traditionally been the forum for experiencing the timeless verities on which civilization was founded. So what does it mean when times change, and the humanities are expected to change with the times? Does it mean those putative truths are expendable? That the legacy of the arts was just empty rhetoric? And that the humanities are an unaffordable distraction? Some would have you believe so.

 

But I’ve heard the CEO of a corporation confess that he’d rather hire English majors than students with an M.B.A. Why? Because, he said, English majors know how to communicate effectively, orally and in writing, and they’re capable of critical thinking. An alert, well-rounded mind trumps the dutiful trainee. The wide world of work far exceeds the command-control needs of a combat operation. It turns out that the most needed workers are those who possess the old skills honed by the liberal arts.

 

But what kind of jobs can you get? This question repeats itself in the public sphere with the tenacity of a bulldog. Well, the answer is just about anything under the sun. A degree in English is a roundhouse, propelling career-potential in every direction. It’s thought that in English we read books. True. But what do we read in those books? We read situations, we read human character, we read the sticky complexity of worlds exactly like our world, where solutions never come easily, where desires are only fleetingly gratified, and in which solving problems is necessary.

 

The English department at Harvard University provides a pie chart showing where its graduates have found careers. The profile closely matches UGA’s results, and probably those of most English departments around the country. Here’s the breakdown: education 17%, law 16%, media 11%, arts/entertainment 11%, business 10%, finance 8%, publishing 7%, health services 6%, nonprofit 5%, computer/IT 3%, government 2%, and “other” 4%. It’s edifying, to be sure, when our students follow a similar career path and end up as professors themselves. But few do, so we relish it when someone from long ago pops up with a cherished memory of reading The Sound and the Fury or King Lear, tangling with Beowulf or a poem by Emily Dickinson—and then discloses the unimaginable career tangents that this student has been embarked on through the decades.

 

Now, more than ever, the sense of history and the ethical framework of civic virtues are at risk of becoming an afterthought in a milieu dominated by means-ends calculations. But because the books we read in English are documents of human lives and societies across a range of times and places, these needed components of citizenship are uniquely ours to offer. A degree in English is a genuine education, and a timely reminder that education is more than vocational training.

 

Jed Rasula, Department Head

For more, please read the latest version of the Park Hall Monitor, the department's newsletter.

Distinguished Research Professor 2016
Distinguished Research Professor 2016

Distinguished Research Professor 2016
Creative Research Award 2016

Ed Pavlić, professor of English and creative writing, is an extraordinarily productive researcher and a gifted poet. Capping an unprecedented decade of creative and scholarly activity, his monograph on the great African-American writer and social critic James Baldwin titled Who Can Afford to Improvise? was published in 2015 by Fordham University Press. In it, Pavlić examines the life, writings and legacy of Baldwin and their relationship to the lyric tradition of black music, from gospel and blues to jazz and R&B. Pavlić also recently published his latest collection of poetry, Let’s Let That Are Not Yet: Inferno, a winner of the prestigious National Poetry Series open competition. This is the fifth title of poetry he has published since joining the faculty at the University of Georgia in 2006. During the same period, he has published more than a dozen scholarly articles and had several earlier essays reprinted in scholarly compendia.

 

Michael F. Adams Early Career Scholar Award 2016
Michael F. Adams Early Career Scholar Award 2016

Michael F. Adams Early Career Scholar Award 2016

Cody Marrs, assistant professor of English, is an accomplished junior scholar and author of the recently published book Nineteenth-Century American Literature and the Long Civil War. In it, Marrs analyzes the writings of four major authors—Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson—whose careers spanned both sides of the conflict. He argues against the traditional division of 19th century literature into either antebellum or postbellum categories, describing these authors as “transbellum.” Marrs is currently working on several related projects, including a second book titled The Civil War: A Literary History. This wide-ranging book is about the war’s cultural afterlife, from the 19th century to the 21st. He is editing a special issue of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies on Melville’s late works. He is also co-editing Timelines of American Literature, a collection of essays that seek to reimagine American literature.