What Can English Studies Do?

Nicholas Miller

Kevin Brooks

Introduction to English Studies

22 October 2015

The Power of English

How Should English be Taught:

            This is the big question. The question that all prospective college students must face; what can (fill-in-the-your-major) do? In this case, that blank is filled with the wonderful world of English studies. As I have been learning in this class, Introduction to English Studies, there is no definitive answer. You could go with the linguists and say that grammar needs to be re-emphasized, or you could take a page out of the poet’s book and re-spark the love of reading and writing poetry. If those do not suit your fancy, you could try the analytical side of English. Perhaps a little rhetoric will do? Of course, there is the omnipresent composition aspect of English studies, but even then the question rises, “what should the student be writing?” If all else fails, there is the current king of English, literature, to fall back on. With all these voices and opinions rattling around the English academic sphere, it is hard to find any one position to get fully behind. Is it wiser to separate each of these disciplines so they may grow and develop independently, or is it better to integrate them all into one big English family? I say we have our cake and eat it too with a system that I have ironically named integrated separation.

Integrated separation is less paradoxical then it seems. It works as follows: the undergraduate program of English studies is filled with low level and introductory classes to as many fields of English as possible. After having a taste of all the fields, a student then focuses on their favorite aspect of English studies in their graduate and doctoral program. Therefore, English studies would start out integrated and then shift to separation.

Look at it from a teacher’s point of view. Would it be better to have an undergraduate class of well-rounded individuals with at least a basic knowledge of all the branches of English, or to have a class of students who are extremely strong in some subjects but completely lack in others? I think that it would be easier to teach the well-rounded class, and there is a simple reason why. The field of English is filled with many sub-disciplines which are, no matter how distinct, still connected to each other. In other words, it would be easier to teach a particular discipline if the teacher knew that his students had a working knowledge of the other disciplines.

Let’s provide a real example. It is easier to analyze a Shakespearean sonnet if you know what appositives, prepositional phrases, and introductory clauses are. By already knowing those terms, a teacher can use them in class to dive deeper without worrying that he is going over his student’s heads. In that case, linguistics aided in the analysis of poetry. On top of linguistics, a class would be able to attain a deeper appreciation for poetry if they themselves had tried their hands at writing it. Once again, one subset of English, creative writing, influenced another subset, poetry. The list of examples goes on and on. No matter what way you look at it, linguistics, creative writing, literature, rhetorical analysis, composition, poetry, and all the other members of the English family are connected, and they each benefit from each other’s existence. Bruce McComiskey sums up this idea very well in, “An Introduction to English Studies” by saying:

“English studies can move from being a set of unrelated sub disciplines to a powerful collection of integrated (structurally separate but functionally interrelated) disciplines with a coherent and collective goal that does not compromise each discipline’s unique integrity” (McComiskey).

Integrated separation would work very well for undergraduates who are looking at moving to the graduate or doctoral level. When a student has completed her undergraduate work, she would have tried out each of the different areas of English, finding what works for her and what does not. Then she could specialize in whichever discipline she chooses. Later, when she moves into the more daunting work of a graduate program, she would understand where her strengths and weaknesses lie and be able to take courses tailored to her interests.

Obviously, not everyone who has chosen English as their major wishes to subject themselves to the trials of a doctoral program, but integrated separation is still a viable method for students who are on a fast track to the “real world.” Liberal arts educations give students, “the ability to think with and through . . . information” making them the new hot-hire (Gaposchkin). A system of integrated separation gives students a chance to work through the many different aspects of an English education. By requiring a student to familiarize themselves in new areas that they know little about, you are simulating what will happen when they get a job in the real world. In a way, entering a new field of thought that you know nothing about is similar to entering a new job you know nothing about. Therefore, the skills acquired by learning something knew in a classroom transfer to the “real world.”

What Should We Teach:

            After listening to each of the NDSU professors give their specialties and personal areas of interest, I felt like something was missing. Andrew Mara mentioned that he had worked with some podcasts before, and that got me thinking. What about new media?

Before I go any further, it is a good idea to define what I mean by “new media.” New media are the media sources that have surfaced within the last decade or so such as YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, Twitter, and others like them. I have a passion for these new forms of media, particularly YouTube. I think they are just as valuable to be studied by English majors as Shakespeare and Edgar Alan Poe. As Gaposchkin mentions in her article, “If Students are Smart, They’ll Study What They Love”, students of the liberal arts are very good at adapting to new information, but we should also work at adapting the liberal arts classes themselves to new sources of information.

For the purpose of this paper, I will focus on YouTube. YouTube has grown to become the go-to place for online videos. While YouTube is filled with cat videos that offer little in a scholarly context, there are many established content creators who have built families of viewers. Whether the channel features video game commentary or regular vlogs, millions of people log on from all over the world to watch. As of October 2015, the YouTube gaming star Pewdiepie has 39.9 million subscribers. That is incredible! When someone or something has that large of a following, there must be something there to study. Some questions that could be asked by English Majors are how does a YouTuber gain a following? What kinds of videos are most frequently watched? What is the content, tone, style, and design of those videos? What separates the online culture from the mainstream culture? What advantages and disadvantages does YouTube have being separated from the mainstream media machine? What is the nature of the relationship between YouTuber and subscriber? The list goes on and on.

I agree with an idea that Bruce Maylath and Steven Hammer introduced in their book, “The Imperative of Teaching Linguistics to Twenty-First-Century Professional Communicators.” In the first chapter of their book, they propose that English studies should not isolate itself from other pools of thought. To thoroughly answer the questions YouTube poses, you would need a sociologist, a graphic designer, a communications major, and a mathematician. When an English major teams up with other majors, their combined strengths boost their capabilities immensely.

Perhaps the most important question, however, is one we have not yet asked. How can YouTube and the other new media sources be used in the classroom? After all, YouTube is not only a place for entertainment. There are wonderful channels gaining popularity every day that focus on educating their viewership. Channels like Vsauce, The Fine Bros, Crash Course, Mental Floss, SciShow, and Big Think gather millions of followers each week and walks them through the world of education. The founder of Vsauce, Michael Stevens, makes the point that because knowledge is so readily available online, it is more democratic; more and more people are able to access it (Stevens). English studies should be in the midst of that! Not only can we spread learning English topics this way, but we can analyze the content of these videos and make them more effective.

In conclusion, English studies should use a model of integrated separation, utilizing new media sources. Integrated separation is a good option for both students who wish to pursue a higher degree in English and those who are looking for a career. New media can be studied by English majors, with a few other majors as well, to answer some fundamental questions about their success. Not only can we better understand what these new media sources have to offer, we can then apply that knowledge to benefit education as a whole. The combined pairing of integrated separation and new media paints a beautiful picture for the future of English Studies.



Works Cited

Gaposchkin, Cecilia. “If Students Are Smart, They’ll Major in What They Love.” Chronicle.com.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, 21 May 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

Hammer, Steven, and Bruce Maylath. “Real-Time and Social Media in Trans-Atlantic

Writing/Translation and Translation/Editing Projects.” Practices Integrating Social

            Media and Globalization Emerging Pedagogies in the Networked Knowledge Society             (2014): 1-16. Web.

McComiskey, Bruce. “Introduction.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s).

Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. 40-52. Print.

Stevens, Michael. “How Much Does a Video Weigh?” Ted.com. TED Conferences, n.d. Web. 21

Oct. 2015.