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So I'm working through the application process, thinking I know what I want to study, where I want to apply, life I love you all is groovy, la la la, when all of a sudden self-doubt strikes.

As an undergrad, my area of emphasis is medieval lit. Specifically, I'm interested in English lit of the High Middle Ages, but in the past couple of years I've been working increasingly with medieval German stuff. Right now, I'm working on an honors thesis which is part lit/cultural analysis and part translation project, on some really fascinating German poetry of the 13th and 14th centuries. My medievalist tendencies are interdisciplinary (like most/all medievalists), and gender/sexuality studies and cultural/religious history are important for me, too. But I'm totally an English major, and I love literature; I want to spend my life studying and writing about and teaching literature. That's where my soul-wringing comes in.

My question is, what to do when your interdisciplinary interests are pulling you in different directions? I'm pulling out my hair trying to figure out whether I should be applying to English programs or to medieval/interdisciplinary programs. If my primary area of interest and expertise (the study and translation of medieval German poetry) isn't even in English, do I really belong in an English grad program?

Has anyone else faced this problem? Have you got any advice for me?


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 18th, 2008 11:52 pm (UTC)
I empathize deeply with your problem. My areas of interest included gender/sexuality and literature with pictures (graphic novels and the like), but I'm very interested in strenuous close reading and serious theory. Long story short, I tried to apply to english lit programs that had a bit wider focus than the traditional canon and it didn't work out for me.

I'm happily in an art school now, but looking back I really think I ought to have been applying to some interdisciplinary programs or (ever the application advice) ones with specific visual and popular literature studies departments. So what I'd advise you to do is take this realization as a moment of clarity that will save you a lot of anguish down the road and get busy researching programs that will fit *all* of your interests while still providing you the rigor you want. Don't try to fit yourself into a smaller box than you actually occupy.
Oct. 19th, 2008 07:05 pm (UTC)
I was exactly where you were last year, rokikurama. I applied to English programs with strong interests in graphic novels and narrative theory and got rejected everywhere. The one interdisciplinary program I applied to I was waitlisted at. This year I'm trying again having done better research to find closer fits, regardless of whether they're English programs or explicitly interdisciplinary ones.
Oct. 19th, 2008 07:25 pm (UTC)
Good luck with your applications! It's heartening to know that there are other people struggling with finding a niche with their interdisciplinary focuses (foci?). It makes me feel less bothered by my untidy array of interests. :-)
Oct. 21st, 2008 04:31 am (UTC)
Good luck to you too! I wish you the best success possible :)
Oct. 19th, 2008 10:18 pm (UTC)
It really is a touchy field, isn't it? I think people are still very much finding their way, and I regret not looking more specifically for graphic novels among professors and grad students' interests when I applied places. Narrative theory, too, feels new. It's ironic that what my advisor told me was sexy atm and a good field to be in ended up being "too new," I think, for people to really have a handle on.
Oct. 21st, 2008 04:34 am (UTC)
I guess this time I'm looking more at film/media programs. If it doesn't work out I'm going to have some serious rethinking to do later... But I'm glad to hear you're happy in your Art program!
Oct. 19th, 2008 07:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for your advice. I'm especially comforted by that last sentence: Don't try to fit yourself into a smaller box than you actually occupy. I'm doing my best not to do that - thank you for putting it into words.

I talked yesterday to my thesis adviser, who does poetry in translation as well as nonfiction, and he told me essentially the same thing; he also said that I might find that a PhD in Medieval Studies or Interdisciplinary Studies may leave me more freedom in entering the job market.

So, again, thank you. Hope you're having a good year in art school! :-)
Oct. 19th, 2008 10:20 pm (UTC)
Wonderful! I'm really glad your advisor is supporting you and has a similarly wide range of interests. I am indeed having a good year in art school so far. (maybe I'll make something for all of you to analyze one day. Mwa ha ha. Right.)

I'm also currently working on submitting an abstract to a children's lit conference over here and so keeping my fingers in the English pool, so to speak. It's an interesting balance.
Oct. 18th, 2008 11:56 pm (UTC)
Have you considered comparative literature? You could study and teach literature just as well from that department, and it will really draw out your German lit interests, and is generally a very interdisciplinary department to be in.
Oct. 19th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC)
I hadn't actually considered it, but I certainly will now. My university has a nice little comparative lit department; I should probably go and talk to them, and see what they think. Thanks for the advice! :-)
Oct. 19th, 2008 09:42 pm (UTC)
Of course! I'm an interdisciplinarian myself, so I heartily sympathize. My interests are very varied, and I had to really think about what to include as a part of my graduate application and what to save for when I am (please please please) a researcher/professor. :)
Good luck!
Oct. 22nd, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
As a fellow medievalist who faced this exact same problem, I say apply to English, medieval studies, and comp lit. My BA and MA are in comp lit, which I chose because I do French/English lit and philosophy and theology. When I applied, I looked for cmlit programs that had a strong medieval faculty associated w/ the department, as well as English depts. that had a strong medieval component and encouraged interdisciplinary work. Then I also applied to medieval studies programs. The program you ultimately decide on depends on, well, first, where you get in, but also the department where you want to end up teaching. Cmlit departments are small and tend to have fewer slots for medievalists. It's difficult, but not impossible, to get a job in an English or German dept. w/ a cmlit degree. If you end up in a medieval studies program, you can be hired in a number of different depts., but you'll have to design your course of study with a particular department in mind. Keep in mind, too, that a fair number of medieval studies programs are rather traditional, with a number of theory-skittish profs and students (numerous exceptions, of course), so you'll want to look carefully at what you can and cannot do in a particular medieval studies program.

Have you looked into Northwestern? Barbara Newman is there, and it seems, based on the very little I know about your work, that she'd be a great person for you to work with.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )