Posted by: Scott Hagele | October 6, 2010

Applied Humanities

This past weekend I traveled to Youngstown, Ohio for my brother’s wedding. The wedding was a rather large one and, as a result, I was meeting many people for the first time. Without fail, at some early moment in the preliminary conversation the topic would turn to my line of work. Whether I answered “English graduate student,” “Ph.D. candidate,” or “apprentice Romanticist” the response was the same–befuddlement. “College teacher” was moderately less confusing, but became increasingly so the more I talked about what I did in the classroom. The experience reminded me just how much of academic life is lived within a wonderful bubble.

The young scholar is rather spoiled by being surrounded by people that nurture the life of the mind. Libraries, academic journals, conferences, monographs, syllabi, anthologies, and critical editions often make poor topics for conversation. And yet, talking to these same befuddled people for just a few minutes about why it is that I want to spend my life reading, writing, and teaching British Romantic-era Literature makes a difference. Although unfamiliar with the professional work of scholarship, I found that many of them relished reading Jane Austen or still fondly remembered a Keats ode that they had last read 20 years ago.

Forgive me for sounding a bit like a secular priest for poetry and prose, but I feel that English professors should do more to spread the gospel of Wordsworth, Blake, or Byron. To industrialize the metaphor: we’ve got a fantastic product, but a poor marketing campaign. I would like to see the next generation of Romantic scholars explore ways to bring our favorite poems, plays, prose, and novels to the masses. Richard Holmes’s “Age of Wonder” and Robert Pinsky’s facilitated on-line discussions of Clare’s “The Badger” and Blake’s “Chimney Sweeper” poems on Slate.com reveals that there is a great deal of popular interest in our work. Public lectures and e-books are two more venues where the scholar can reach a larger audience. Perhaps we ought to teach more 1 credit “Literature Appreciation”-style courses. What are some other ways that future Romanticists might serve as public intellectuals?

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Responses

  1. […] popular uses of Shakespeare are all welcome and needed.  Also, and this is somewhat in-line with Scott’s post from 10/6, any thoughts on how we might more effectively transfer the produce of the English department (or […]

  2. […] popular uses of Shakespeare are all welcome and needed.  Also, and this is somewhat in-line with Scott’s post from 10/6, any thoughts on how we might more effectively transfer the produce of the English department (or […]

  3. […] popular uses of Shakespeare are all welcome and needed.  Also, and this is somewhat in-line with Scott’s post from 10/6, any thoughts on how we might more effectively transfer the produce of the English department (or […]


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