Why study english

by James Gurney

Recently at a meeting concerning the history of infection collaboration Christina mentioned that a lot of people do not see the value in what they do. I must stick my hand high in the air and say; first, sorry. I have at one stage been that insufferable twerp who would have (have) asked that exact same question. But it got me thinking that I get the same question asked of me and I don’t think it is unquie to the humanities.

The question I find myself being asked is

“Why don’t you work on curing cancer or getting rid of HIV?”

To me this is the same question the humanities find themselves facing, essentially what is the value of what you do? I think now this is a woefully bad question.

My first response to this sort of inquest is ‘I do not find topic X as interesting as what I’m doing.’ Don’t get me wrong cancer and HIV are both really interesting things and topics and I commend anyone who works on them. But to me they are not as cool as looking at how a pathogens are shaped by the blind forces or evolution by our own doing and the beautiful elegance of natural selection.

But this is possibly not the best answer…

There exist a not particularly hidden scoffing culture of the humanities within the science. Some would call it a soft subject and rank it lower then the sciences and maths. But what does this mean? Soft? I think that it means things which can not be empirically tested. Now I love me some empirical testing but it is not the be all and end all. It might one day be but I can’t say for sure.

The study of language and literature can give us a breath taking insight into the human mind. It for one is the best way I know of that allows us to share a common narrative. This allows us the sense that we are the same human minds have the Same patterns and same feeling. In a phrase it allows us to see out of the minds eye of others.

For myself who doesn’t believe in deities or other higher powers I feel I have learnt a lot of my morals from this common minds eye. This is probably the same for a lot of people even those who think their morals come from religion.

Studying literature and having to defend this study is in some way similar to enjoying fine music and having to defend that. Now many people don’t enjoy many different forms of music. But I don’t think there is any better music. Aside from fabricated stories behind music in the form of manufactured pop in order to sell more records. Any way to sum up I believe that studying English or any humanities has value, a direct value to us all it brings us our past and gives us a point at which to sail at for the future by understanding who and what we are.

J

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