Each discipline–be it English or engineering, classics or chemistry, business or biology–reflects a distinct sub-culture. Professors build their professional lives around these disciplinary cultures, and students, sometimes without knowing it, easily follow suit. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it’s important to identify and engage in the communities that will ground one’s academic and professional identity in college and beyond. It is also important, however, to be able to think beyond them: to think differently, to think otherwise.
Perhaps this is what education experts mean when they talk about capacities for integrative learning, which has been identified as a crucial skill that will come to define personal and professional success in the twenty-first century. While the phrase has a proper institutional definition and rubrics to spare, I like to think of it as a scholarly version of what John Keats calls negative capability. For Keats, this capability allows one to navigate doubt, to dwell within uncertainty–which is also, as Emily Dickinson might reply, to dwell in possibility. At its core, it’s about breaking from habitual ways of thinking, deferring the expedient or apparent solution for a more complex reality that resists easy answers.
Students who choose to double major–an increasing trend over the past decade in higher education–might do so for the challenge or the prestige, or to combine a personal passion with a more practical goal. Whatever the motivation, the result is not only increased knowledge and marketability, but a capacity for reflective, integrative thinking that is increasingly important in today’s world. Life, of course, is the double major most of us choose, the one that we never fully complete. Some students, however, have made this life lesson one that they have dedicated themselves to undertaking during their four years at the College. Below, you can read more, in their own words, about what motivated three students in particular to choose their dual academic pathways.
I combined my English major with a BA in Psychology and a minor in British Studies, and I did this for a couple of reasons. I think the science behind psychology is so fascinating–how the mind works and why we do the things that we do. However, I am more interested in the way mental illness and brain processes manifest through action and behavior. English has always been my favorite subject; I love analyzing literature, and it’s a little bit like solving a mystery, just as it is in psychology. I added a British Studies minor because I love British literature especially, and the history aspect of the minor helps me better understand the literature I read.
I believe that English works well with nearly any degree, because it is always important to be able to elucidate your beliefs and ideas. I think it is particularly valuable in psychology because everyone needs to have good written communication skills, especially if one is a researcher or a mental health professional. Having a psychology degree also gives me a unique perspective on the literature I read. I can think about character motivations and behavior and what that says about the greater themes in the novel. For example, I wrote a paper in an American Literature course that looked at “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman from a psychological perspective. Both degrees allow me to be critical of the literature I read and of the world around me, and the personal growth that comes from this questioning is something I believe to be very powerful.
While I do not have any concrete ideas about my future plans, I know I want to study for at least some period of time in London. If something sparks my interest there, I would love to continue working and researching there, perhaps in a museum or for a nonprofit organization. English lends itself to a variety of different careers, because you always need to be able to write and communicate effectively. Psychology would allow me to work in the mental health field, but I have not decided if that is what I want to pursue yet.
I entered as a declared English major my freshman year before I had even set foot on campus at the start of the semester, but I had always intended to combine this with a double major or minor in something else. However, I had no idea what that something would be. English was something that I had loved and that had made sense to me for as long as I could remember. While I was interested in studying other things, I didn’t know what else could hold that pull for me.
It wasn’t until the very end of my freshman year that I even heard of what would become my second major. My mom emailed me one day asking if I had heard about the Arts Management program, as I had expressed an interest in the music industry at times before. She included an email to their department website, and I was interested enough to register for the introductory class the following semester. I knew walking out of the very first meeting of that class that I had found my second major. But what I didn’t know was just how well it would compliment my English degree.
I was drawn to Arts Management because it was a practical kind of learning I had not experienced before. Don’t get me wrong; I love sitting in a circle discussing great works of literature and what they reveal about humanity in my English classes, and I firmly believe that English is a highly employable degree. But few people go on to be professors, and the rest must translate those skills they learn as English majors to their often less directly relevant future careers. The Arts Management curriculum, however, is entirely based on what students will be doing once they leave the classroom. It covers grant writing, programming, and marketing, to name just a few topics. My English degree provides me with a theoretical understanding of how the arts can reflect and impact a culture, while my Arts Management degree enables me to share that understanding with the world in a hands-on way.
This became particularly evident the summer before my junior year, when I engaged in two internships in Nashville, TN that perfectly merged my studies. One was with the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, where I was valued for my knowledge of the Bard and English studies in general as well as for the development and administrative skills I gained through Arts Management. The second internship was with Humanities Tennessee, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the state’s history and culture of letters. While there, I primarily helped to organize the annual Southern Festival of Books, which hosts more than 200 local and national authors and tens of thousands of attendees with a love of reading. Whether I was communicating directly with publishers or planning author panels, this internship provided the perfect opportunity for my English and Arts Management skills to merge.
I also had the opportunity to study abroad with a program that, though it was led by the English department, applied easily to my experience as a student of Arts Management. In the Maymester after my sophomore year, I traveled to Charleston’s sister city, Spoleto, Italy, to study travel writing and global urban cinema under Professors Lott and Bruns, respectively. Though I had obviously written creatively and seen films before, both of these classes were entirely new artistic experiences to me. They reinvigorated my own artistic inclinations through a series of nonfiction travel essay assignments and a video project that obligated me to stop and think about everything I was seeing and doing while immersed in this foreign culture. Additionally, the trip provided me with the opportunity to see some of the greatest artistic monuments in the world and observe from a patron’s perspective how they were facilitated. It allowed me to reflect on how art’s role varies from culture to culture and reevaluate how that affects my engagement, both as a writer and as a potential arts administrator.
As a senior, I’ve had the opportunity to take incredibly interesting and engaging classes in both of my majors. In English, my favorite courses range from 100 levels open to non-majors all the way to 400 levels. I’ve been lucky enough to take Dr. Ward’s Harry Potter course, notorious for being one of the hardest classes to get into at CofC, and Dr. Baker’s Detective Fiction course, which covers my favorite genre. Thanks to the flexibility of the English department, I was also able to take my Senior Seminar as a junior in order to study another of my favorite genres, British Gothic Literature, under Dr. Carens. All three were equally fascinating and memorable, despite their differences in level. As for Arts Management, my favorite course was probably Legal Aspects of the Entertainment Industry with Professor Lewis. I never expected to find law very interesting, but the complex histories of issues like copyright and censorship pulled me in (and are applicable in the literary world as well).
As for the future, I’m currently hard at work on a Bachelor’s Essay on a subject I’ve been eager to delve into since freshman year and am looking forward to completing that in the spring. Oddly enough, though, I’m not sure I’ll be directly using either of my majors upon my graduation in May, as I aim to engage with animal welfare organizations in my professional life. However, I have no doubt that the unique combination of skills I’m taking away from my particular double major will be invaluable to me moving forward. As I’ve mentioned, Arts Management teaches a host of practical skills that will be useful in any nonprofit business, whether or not it’s arts-related. Likewise, my English studies let me hone my writing skills and become confident in my ability to write in most any professional capacity. However, I think the most important quality I will take away from my choice in majors is not so much a skill, but a particular way of understanding humanity and the world we inhabit. English and Arts Management together have shown me that common currents exist between people in all walks of life. Whether these currents are exemplified through words or art or good works in general, they allow us to come together and better understand one another in new and innovative ways.
Upon applying to the College of Charleston, I knew my career path at only the most basic level: I wanted to work internationally, and I wanted to do something in magazine journalism. This led me to a double major in International Studies and English. I was then chosen as the Lancelot Minor Harris scholar for English as well as an International Scholar within the Honors College. The combination of these majors and these programs sets me apart from other people going into the same field as me, and gives me a well-rounded education that I would not have had just studying journalism. I am getting the training necessary to my field as a reader, writer and editor through English classes, and on top of that learning more about various styles of literature that allow me to think and produce work more creatively. I am getting a global perspective from my International Studies classes that is vital to successful international and, more broadly, meaningful work.
The moment I realized that my majors merged marvelously was when I was visiting London. I was in Europe after studying abroad in Estonia through the International scholars program, and stopped in London for a few days on my way back to the States. I had taken a British Literature class for the English major, and many of the works I had really enjoyed reading were set in or focused on early London– the dirty, grimy London that had chimney sweepers and class tensions. Walking through the city that I had studied was incredible, it connected me further to what I had studied. I never would have had the chance to experience this without my double major.
After the trip, I decided that I wanted to live in London after college. I plan to work for a magazine there and live in Notting Hill. My International Studies major, as I am a Europe concentration, and English major have, and will continue to, allowed me to focus in on where I want to live, and know more about its history from the perspective of the people who have walked its streets. And that is a rare, amazing opportunity.
Many people might think of English majors as just bookworms only living through the pages they read, and that has not been my experience at all. But my experience with the English department here at the College is that it is full of not only avid readers, but avid readers who are friendly and love to participate and discuss things. My classes have been filled with nice, outgoing students who actually ask questions and analyze material. And my own personal decision to double major in English and International Studies gives me the opportunity to see the places in the world that I read about. It has allowed me to look beyond the United States in my career path, and gives me a unique perspective on the things that I am studying to prepare me for that career path.
Emily Anderson, Ashley De Peri, and Sidney Moreano contributed to this piece