Wednesday, 28 January 2015

What Is An English Degree?

There's a certain look I get whenever I tell people I'm getting an English degree. It's not a bad look, just a sort of sad one.

Oh. You're one of those. Poor dear, I'll save you a cardboard box for when you inevitably have to live outside the Jobcentre, crying sonnet-shaped tears and cursing Milton that you don't have anything more specific and useful to give to the world of the cut-throat job market.

The fact that our image as unemployable wazzocks had become the focus of most self-referential jokes by the middle of my first year should tell you all else that you need to know on that front.

You know why we made those jokes? Because those people, with their pitying eyes and cardboard boxes are wrong.

Here's why.

An English Degree is Historical

There's no point writing if there's not a world to write for: this is as true now as it always has been. The literature of a time tells you about its culture, its worries, its triumphs, its terrors, its best, its worst, and what everybody thought about all. 

It tells you more about the human reality of the world more than any list of dates and drudgeries ever will.

An English Degree is Political

You know, Mary Wollstonecraft was criticising the falsehood of feminisation as degredation three hundred years ago. William Blake was challenging the restrictive and tyrranical interpretation of mainstream religion two hundred years ago. Ovid was displaying an educated and enlightened perspective on 'deviant' sexuality before our culture even had a concept of sexuality at all.

You've got to look back on what came before if you want to carry anything forward. After all, something's far easier to carry if you've got someone else - however ancient - to help you out.

An English Degree is Psychological

Creative expression has proved itself, from the earliest cave paintings to the most dementedly esoteric online novels, to be one of the most universally accessible and comprehensible mediums of human expression. People lay themselves bare in the pages of their work as they rarely do anywhere else.

Writing is important. Writing is vital. And ironically there's no way in the world to express that in writing at all.

An English Degree is A Challenge

Two modules a term,  a choice of six. Ten contact hours with academics, thirty or more of independent study. Some of the densest, most bizarre, complex and difficult texts of a thousand forms, all within arm's reach.

It's all down to you. What are you going to do with it?

An English Degree is Individual

Yes, you heard me - you. What do you want to study this year? How do you want to interpret this particular essay question? Are you going to stand up and challenge your classmates, your convenor, your culture, or are you going to play devil's advocate and watch the tears flow?

Yeah, buddy. It's all. On. You.

An English Degree is Powerful

The sheer amount that this area of study can produce and mean and become depending on one individual's experience means it's really quite tricky to categorise in any empirical fashion - like, for example, skills applicable to a job, in some cases. 

But what an English degree does do is give you a lot of knowledge that you can go away and develop, and build on, and interpret and re-interpret and revise to your heart's content. It shows you so much about the workings of the world and the human experience, culture and art and life and everything in between. 

It takes you seriously, and in doing that, it gives you power. Power to make what you will of it. Power to know. Power to be. 

And, if I do say so myself, ain't nobody better than an English student to make your personal statement sound like the Declaration of Independence.

~ Charley R


  1. Hi!
    I sent you an email a few days ago. It's time-sensitive, so if you could please look at it and reply if you're interested, that'd be great. Thanks!

    1. I don't seem to have that email, I'm afraid. Try sending it again, if it's still relevant?

    2. Alright. I resent it. It'll probably say it's from "Katie Nichols".