Those Elusive Urals

Notes From a University Student 10

Sir Philip Sidney

Right now I’m doing a course about the development of the English novel, from the Renaissance to halfway the eighteenth century.

The professor is a nice guy and a specialist in the eighteenth century. Every now and then it’s embarrassingly apparent that he doesn’t know much about the Renaissance, but once we had arrived in the eighteenth century it started to be fun.

I had to read some books that I had always meant to read anyway, and quite a few I had never heard of. I especially loved Arcadia, by Sir Philip Sidney. It’s incredibly flowery. For example: a woman dismounts her horse and she is so beautiful that “the very horse, methinks, bewails to be so disburdened.”

But still I am reminded of the frustration of not having my degree recognized here.

The main reason for not recognizing it was supposedly because I hadn’t had a four-year bachelor’s degree before doing library school, and that it’s so important to do that first to have a well-rounded education.


I’m in a class listening to a professor who’s extremely knowledgeable about eighteenth century English literature, but who doesn’t know much outside of that.

I got the impression he didn’t really have a good understanding of the amount of time between the Ancient Greeks and the Middle Ages, and it took me forever to figure out what he was talking about when he mentioned Bellus Lettrus and Romans a Cleff.

The other day he came into the teaching assistants’ office and asked me if Holland was anywhere near the Urals.

Not only is it flabbergasting that he doesn’t know that Russia is in Eastern Europe and Holland is in the west (even if he doesn’t know exactly where, which I can certainly forgive), but it didn’t occur to him to just look in an atlas.

And next semester I’m going to do a course with another professor, who calls it a course about the Fun de Sheckle.

So much for that well-rounded education. A Dutch high school student is more well-rounded.

Don’t get me wrong, these professors know a lot about their very specific area of expertise, but it’s obvious that not much is learned in elementary school, middle school, high school, and as an undergrad, and only when you start doing a master’s degree  and a PhD do you have to start paying attention.

The university system further enables this tunnel vision training because students can take most courses in any order they want, so professors never have to be able to refer to anything outside their own course, because half the students won’t have done the courses he’d be referring to, anyway.

And yet, despite all my griping, I have to say that at the moment I at least feel that I can work at a level that’s challenging, if only because of the papers I get to write, for which I can do as much or as little research as I want, so of course I go all out. So I’m relatively content right now.

(From a letter in May, 1998)

The next post in this series will address the language confusion around American and Dutch degrees.

One response to “Those Elusive Urals

  1. That’s not just logic. That’s really selnbise.


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