Response (and a short rant rant?): Grafton and Grossman

While I haven’t finished all of the readings for tonight’s class, I wanted to comment particularly on Grafton and Grossman’s piece on the reformation of attitudes towards graduate education in history. I feel like this connects to what we’ve been discussing on a multitude of levels.

I suppose this article speaks to me particularly due to my feelings of inhabiting a sort of liminal space in the academy: Technically, my focus here at the GC is rhetoric and composition under the umbrella of English studies. However my interests in the history of feminist rhetoric places me a bit outside the typical conversations in the comp/rhet classroom, and even further outside the conversations going on in other English-related classes, classes that are usually focused in the study of literature. This means that I’m often left in a sort of self-identity crisis – am I a rhetorician? a compositionist? an English teacher (and all that encompasses)? a historian? …I frequently find myself identifying with the latter, and that, unfortunately, makes for a tricky position when mapping out my future career. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who goes through such existential crises.)

Grafton and Grossman address the need to change how the traditional graduate program is thought about, specifically referring to history programs. Although they bring up the excellent points of paying more attention to options outside the academy, I believe that history programs – and English programs, and art programs, etc., etc. – should be opening up their doors a bit. I would love to teach a history class, but I know that that will most likely never happen due to the strict (and, frankly, weird) territorial “rules” that surround department structures. Perhaps, in reforming graduate education, steps might be taken to form closer ties with other departments in order to encourage graduate students to make connections between their disciplinary work and others’. Programs could foster an ability and willingness to explore career opportunities in other departments. [I believe we discussed this in class a few weeks ago, and that it was covered in one of our readings? (I don’t have my Debates in DH book in front of me at the moment and so can’t make a reference; sorry.)]

 We tell students that there are “alternatives” to academic careers. We warn them to develop a “plan B” in case they do not find a teaching post. And the very words in which we couch this useful advice make clear how much we hope they will not have to follow it—and suggest, to many of them, that if they do have to settle for employment outside the academy, they should crawl off home and gnaw their arms off.

If we follow Grafton and Grossman’s reasoning and expand upon it a bit, shouldn’t it make sense that graduate programs encourage seeking out employment in an interdisciplinary way?

Beyond a deeper communication amongst disciplines, though, I think that it is important to keep in conversation with the general public. We’ve been discussing access quite a bit; I think that not only does communication between departments create more access to our fields, whatever they may be, but communication with the public does as well. For Grafton and Grossman:

A first step towards adjusting graduate education to occupational realities would be to change our attitudes and our language, to make clear to students entering programs in history that we are offering them education that we believe in, not just as reproductions of ourselves, but also as contributors to public culture and even the private sector.

This can be expanded to any and all humanities disciplines. It should not be strange for me to have public literacy volunteerism on my CV. I should not have advisors – as I have in the past – tell me that having a section marked “Non-Academic Work Experience,” in which I list projects completed for local communities and libraries to promote historical awareness and literacy, is “not standard” and “will probably be detrimental in my job searches.” I’m not sure how that’s possible, considering that I’m teaching – just not in an institutional setting and not to traditional-aged students who have been inducted into the culture of higher education. I firmly believe that by encouraging graduate students to undertake such activities engaging the public, not only are programs promoting a greater accessibility to the work happening in their field, but they are also giving graduate students the opportunity to broaden their skills, rethink potential audiences for their work, and negotiate new questions that may arise from these new audiences.

One Response to Response (and a short rant rant?): Grafton and Grossman

  1. Jenn Gapetz October 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    You make two (related) points which particularly resonate with me and I strongly agree with:

    “Beyond a deeper communication amongst disciplines, though, I think that it is important to keep in conversation with the general public.”

    “I should not have advisors – as I have in the past – tell me that having a section marked ‘Non-Academic Work Experience’…but they are also giving graduate students the opportunity to broaden their skills, rethink potential audiences for their work, and negotiate new questions that may arise from these new audiences.”

    As a new graduate student, in the midst of a job hunt, and from a notably different environment and culture (academic and personally), I am having a hard time understanding and accepting the disconnect between academia and “the general public.” (Among other things, I, too, have teaching experience outside of “the academy” which is often dismissed.) I do not feel, generally speaking, most programs are addressing the realities of our society, economy, or students’ desire (and/or necessity) to pursue more non-traditional work.

    I think it’s worth repeating your point, over and over, about “new audiences.” I believe there is room in academia for not just embracing but encouraging new audiences, ideas, and roles without sacrificing those who preference traditional study/research/tenure/etc. Room should be made alongside people who are academics for “knowledge for the sake of knowledge” for those of us who want a liberal arts education for other reasons.

    For me, I want to work in and out of academia. It’s ridiculous that is frowned on.

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