This is for everyone who has heard “but what are you going to do with that major?” If it’s your parents saying that, here’s my blog post on how to talk to your parents about your undergraduate humanities major.
My fellow English major and former Amazon colleague Langdon Cook writes, talks, and teaches about the relationship between nature and the kitchen. Read his excellent books for a look at what he does: Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager and The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America.
Here’s what Caitlin Doughty did with her medieval studies major: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. No, hers isn’t a typical career, but she developed it for herself out of her undergraduate education: this is her memoir. Her website, The Order of the Good Death, is also very good, as are its well-regarded videos on YouTube.
Ginny Gilder majored in history. A silver medalist from the 1984 Olympics (quadruple sculls), she now runs a number of businesses and owns a pro basketball team, Her new book Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake of Title IX tells part of her story. Some of the events and people in the book also appear in the DVD A Hero for Daisy.
Molly Ivins, Texan, history major, journalist, and defender of the First Amendment, wrote “The Women Who Run Texas,” which you can find in her book Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?. Great essay on how women moved into the then-nontraditional job of being mayor, and where they got the skills to do that (hint: not at mayor school).
No one imagined a career for Marie Kondo in organizing living spaces and writing about it. Read her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and remember it when people ask you “how could that ever be a job?”
Mary Norris took one of the jobs that you think English majors will — she is a page OK’er at The New Yorker, and she’s written about that career in Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. Also interesting for my purposes is the list of jobs she had before she got her current job; it’s worth remembering that jobs like these are in almost everyone’s path.
West Point turns its English, history, and philosophy majors into second lieutenants in the Army. Here’s that story, told by Elizabeth Samet, a faculty member in the English department who discusses the value of the humanities in general, and literature specifically, to Army officers in training: Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point. Her new book, No Man’s Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post-9/11 America, shows how literature and history help her and her students try make sense of their changing world through and after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Molly WIzenberg majored in French and started graduate work in cultural anthropology. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table tells her story of how she fashioned a new life and a new career, with several jobs along the way. If you like it, read the next stage of her journey, Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage. Well written, strongly voiced, interesting.
Brian McDermott majored in philosophy. He now runs a company called EmpathyWorks Films, and recently made a film on Native American tribes whose native languages are in danger of disappearing and whose people are working to revitalize them. Here’s his site.
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