The Joys of Jane Austen and 16th-Century Midwifery Manuals

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 2:23 am | By Elizabeth Bologna ’08

 

Basically, I knew from the time I learned to read I needed to be an English major in college. I love to read and I love to talk about books — what major could suit me better? Unfortunately, Grinnell has this strange idea that you should have a well-rounded education, so they wouldn’t let me take only English classes. I had a lot of fun experimenting — taking classics, art history, or whatever I felt like. I knew I had already picked my major, so there was no pressure on my schedule.

However, somewhere in my second year, I began to have second thoughts. I was sitting in a dark, empty room in the basement of Burling Library, taking up an entire table with stacks of books and papers, researching a 20-page paper for my history class. I had just spent the last three hours taking notes from microfilm copies of 16th-century midwifery manuals. My neck hurt, my eyes ached from looking at the tiny print, and I was grinning like a maniac. It occurred to me that I was actually enjoying writing that paper. Suddenly I thought, “Maybe I chose my major too soon …”

I had been so set on what I already knew, that I had never considered another option. Thinking back over my first year and a half of college, I realized that my history classes had been my favorite classes every semester. I had always done the reading for those classes first and sometimes had even read ahead (which for me is a big thing, because I’m a terrible procrastinator).

Over the next few days, I strongly considered switching my major to history, but in the end, I couldn’t give up English. I’m definitely an English major at heart. I have an action figure of Jane Austen standing on my desk, and I have been known to interrupt conversations to point out grammatical errors on signs we’re passing. I was reluctant to declare a double major, because I didn’t want to lose all those electives, but in the end I did. It was the best decision I could have made.

Having two majors keeps me balanced. It keeps me from obsessing over literature and literary theory or from burying myself too deeply in the past. Also, because most English and history classes are writing intensive, my writing has improved immensely in the last two years. And the best part is, I still have time for electives. This semester I’m taking sociology and next semester I’m taking a film class and Intro to Psychology.

I’m not saying everyone should double major, but I would recommend keeping your mind open. Take classes in subjects you know you like, but don’t be afraid to try something new. Something may surprise you.