My whole life it has always been the same thing over and over and over again: why are you studying English?
What practical use does that have in the real world? What is the purpose of the humanities anymore? What can you even do with an English Literature degree?
And while quite honestly I have no idea what this degree can be used for, I refuse to let anyone else comment on that. The humanities dominate those ‘top 10 degree courses with the lowest paying graduate jobs’ time and time again, and from a logical standpoint it would make sense for those in STEM or other disciplines to wonder why the hell anyone would actively choose this path.
What are the humanities good for these days?
I remember the shame in sixth form whenever I had to tell a group full of biochemists, mathematicians or other more impressive sounding degrees that I was taking English. I shouldn’t have bowed to such pressure but found myself discrediting the very things I loved and cared for in order to show that I too understood that my degree was not worth it. Just speaking the thoughts I knew were brewing in their minds.
Jokes about reading books, doing nothing, and pretentious coursemates dominated my rhetoric. I would watch STEM students ferrying about from lectures to labs to lectures again and wonder why on earth I was there reading Frankenstein. Imposter syndrome is even more prevalent when other people are already telling you that what you’re doing is useless.
But what we do is hard and insightful in our own way. It may not be curing cancer and researching space but I’d love for anyone to sit there and tell me that reading 50 pages of critical articles written in jargon on top of your Old English primary text for the week is not hard.
Literature has and always will reflect reality as well as shape it. It’s one of the most important mediums known to man in my opinion. Not simply because it is a source of entertainment, but because it practices empathy in a way that no other thing can.
You are not just a spectator but an active participant in the lives of these characters, and even if they are nothing like yourself you discover echoes of yourself within their makeup. Books, treatises, polemics – they shape our world. The study of them is thus crucial.
Sometimes even I find myself wondering what I’m still doing here – especially when discussing the intricacies of one line of Shakespeare – but it’s all for the wider picture. It all boils down to the fact that this world is influenced by words not just numbers (but try telling that to an economist).