By Rhayna Kramer ’19
For many of us, catching up with family, friends and acquaintances—most of whom are dying to know what you plan to do with the rest of your life at this stage—can be the most frustrating experience.
And for English majors, that experience is only amplified as we constantly hear phrases like “what are you going to do with that?” or, as my grandmother has repeatedly said to me, “You want to make sure you’re going into a field where you’ll be making a lot of money,” casually suggesting that I should go into “electronics” or engineering because “jobs are opening up in that field.” Yet I don’t have the heart to tell her that I get physically nauseous at that idea because I know that she’s only looking out for my best interest.
It was in that moment that I realized that no matter the circumstance, the people dearest to me would always see my 12-year-old sister’s pursuits in a more favorable light since she has her heart set on either biology or astronomy.
Because let’s face it: knowing that the energy-laden sun is the equivalent of 100 nuclear bombs sounds infinitely more impressive to most listeners than impressing upon them that the characterization of the nameless protagonist in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is much like a 20th century version of Jane Eyre.
Little did I know, the rest of the academic world would agree with these notions, a seeming consensus manifested in the disappointing institutional decline in funding for the humanities in favor of the sciences.
Don’t get me wrong: an investment in the sciences is crucial in the strive toward progress; in the case of the U.S., this issue is even more important in the face of fruitless and excessive spending in areas such as defense, as well as the low-information voter climate that still seeks to discount fundamental concepts such as evolution and climate change.
Even those harboring the intent of chasing after the arts, humanities or business should possess some level of scientific literacy, both in understanding the reality about the world around us and in making informed decisions about a government representative’s grasp on this reality.
But are we really willing to devalue what has for millennia attempted to understand the whys of humankind, or, as scientist E.O. Wilson noted, “the natural history of culture, and our most private and precious heritage”?
Who says that classical knowledge is useless? Was it not J.K. Rowling, a BA in French and Classics, who is well-known for prompting an entire generation to read with her Harry Potter series, injecting life into the otherwise dead language of Latin?
Who’s to say that historical knowledge is useless, especially when we discover that the beginning constitutions of brand new states following the American Revolution surprisingly point to an early welfare state?
And who’s to say that the humanities and the sciences cannot coexist, or, in extreme cases, even fuse together into an innovative, truly avant-garde movement? After all, it was (among other professions) populist philosophers and futurists, speculative and science fiction writers such as Gene Roddenberry, D.C. Fontana, Harlan Ellison and the like who gave us Star Trek—the spark that grew into a burning flame of intellectual desire in existing and budding scientists everywhere. The impact of such endeavors can hardly be ignored.
Aside from all of this, many of us humanities enthusiasts have landed here simply because immersion in the lives, stories and understandings of others fascinates us, and allows us to reevaluate our own whys. And I say with full with confidence that we have nothing to be ashamed of.