Friday, April 30, 2010

Gaffield, Chad. "We Need Literary Theorists." UNIVERSITY AFFAIRS April 6, 2010.

In the February issue of University Affairs, Rosanna Tamburri wrote a provocative article (“Give us the Dirt on Jobs”) about what universities are doing, or not doing, to prepare graduate students for the likelihood that they will be working in non-academic careers after graduation. This question is particularly relevant for the social sciences and humanities in the globally engaged and digitally connected 21st century. The notion that successful pathways for  undergraduate students in fields such as literature and political science lead only to graduate programs and then to research careers has been wrong for decades. About half of our fellowship-winning graduates pursue research careers. The other half go on to contribute across the private, public and non-profit sectors. Happily, both expectations and curricula are changing, with the realization that Canada needs more graduates with postsecondary education at all levels; only some of them will occupy research positions. Today’s rapidly changing economy, society and culture make it increasingly important that we confront these misperceptions and continue to update the curricula to embrace the diversity of ways that advanced education connects to subsequent experience.

Does Canada need students studying fields such as literary theory? More than ever, if we can judge by the example of scholars like Ian Lancashire, an English professor from the University of Toronto, and his colleague Graeme Hirst, a computational linguist, who topped the New York Times annual list of the best ideas of 2009. Their idea was to analyze Agatha Christie’s novels based on the knowledge that written vocabulary changes subtly but perceptively with the onset of dementia. Their textual analysis demonstrated for the first time that the prolific Christie did, in fact, write her last novels while suffering from Alzheimer’s. Moreover, their work suggests new diagnostic tools for identifying the initial onset of dementia which, in turn, make possible new preventive treatments. . . .

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