Literature in the City of Words: On the Versatility of an English Literature Degree – Claudia Marinaro

Literature in the City of Words, English Literature, Dr. Jonathan Wild, photo by George Joseph Miller IVPhoto by George Joseph Miller IV

The English literature department made a glorious entry in this year’s Innovative Learning Week with ‘Literature in the City of Words’, a day packed with events planned by recent-graduate Daniel Davies and PhD students Charity McAdams and Brian Wall, and aimed mainly at showing the possibilities opened up by an English literature degree, both before and after graduation. “No other subject holds the same possibilities”, says Davies, and the events that took place on Monday show exactly that. Whether in academia or, indeed, beyond the page, English literature really seems to offer endless possibilities, as the workshops and panels held throughout the day showed.

The day started off with Jonathan Wild’s anecdotes about his life before academia and how English literature offered him a second career after a rather dull one in banking. (Useful tip for future graduates: if you land a not-so-glamorous job in a company, make sure you are made responsible for the stationery office, as it will provide you with plenty of opportunities to hide in there with a good paperback). That was years ago, anyway, and here Dr Wild is, inspiring new students to potentially pursue a career in academia. Or banking.

More inspiring academics followed up, when Dr Crosthwaite, Dr O’Neill, Dr Crockford and Dr Rycroft took the stage to talk of their interdisciplinary projects, which range from a visual arts exhibition on finance to re-staging Scottish Renaissance plays and devising a Smartphone app that leads you through pre-Enlightenment Edinburgh. Of particular interest to non-literature students might be Dr Crockford’s project “Dissecting Edinburgh”, which explores the relationship between literary texts and medical discoveries through the display of the Surgeons’ Hall Museum.

The creative side of studying literature was also explored, with a creative writing workshop run by novelist Tracey Rosenberg and students Mackenzie Doss, Alex Shedlock and Joanna Ross-Barrett reading out their poems and short stories to a mesmerised audience. Meanwhile, students Megan Hancock, Kieran Wilson, Vivek Santayana, John Hewitt Jones, Maria Carpintero Torres-Quevedo, and Lucy White presented some of their academic work on a range of topics, from African-American literature to Scottish national identity.

Future employment possibilities were discussed by fourth-year students Yasmin Morgan-Griffiths, Oona Haas and Sara Pierdominici, who talked about their internships in journalism, publishing, and auctioning, and gave some hope to those students who think their degree in English will make them utterly unemployable.

The most impressive example of a career after graduating in English from the University of Edinburgh, however, was offered by Dame Stella Rimington, who narrated her astounding story from confused graduate to the heights of Director General of the MI5 and to a current second career as novelist.Stella Rimington 2

Attendees at Dame Rimington’s speech. Photo by Louise Spence

‘Literature in the City of Words’ did a great job at balancing out keynote speakers, members of the academic staff and undergraduate students, who are often neglected but who have really quite a lot to say. With its variety of guests and workshops, this day displayed the versatility and creativity of the English literature department and surely made students even more enthusiastic about their degree.

Claudia Marinaro, MA History of Art and English Literature

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