history and literature

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Hello again!

It’s been a super busy week for me, so I’ll be quick. It’s crazy that it’s already the last week of the school year! Junior year has gone by like lightening, and I’ve hardly had time to truly consider the fact that in just a few short months, I’ll officially be a senior. It hasn’t quite hit me yet, but I’m sure once I’m on the plane home for vacation with my finals and a certain looming 20-page paper behind me, I’ll feel like celebrating my new senior-status.

Speaking of finals, my French Literature class recently ended with a few students presenting their final projects. This year in French we studied several famous French authors and playwrights including Pierre Corneille and Moliere. French 70A has been one of my favorite classes this semester. Taking a 70 level French class is a requirement for my field in History & Literature, and I’m glad that it is. It is a same class where we spent a lot of time talking about the history of the literature, reading old-style French, and writing about our interpretations of the literature.

French Class Presentation

My classmates performing a scene from Moliere’s Les Precieuses Ridicules in the Kirkland House Senior Common Room

For final presentations, students could chose a scene to rewrite and act out from the plays we studied. My fellow classmates did everything from tragic monologues to comedic group scenes – all in French of course. One group performed a scene from a Moliere satire called “Les Preciueses Ridicules.” Their rendition was great, along with their festive costumes.

Looking to watch more theatricality, on Saturday I went to the final Immediate Gratification Players Performance. The IGP, an improv group, is one of my favorite groups on campus, and I try to catch their shows whenever I can. While their performance was a tad bit raunchier than their Parent’s Weekend show, they were still just as funny! It was their last performance of the year, so the show included a celebration of their Seniors.

IGP Performance

The Immediate Gratification Players performed on Saturday for their last show of the year!

That’s all for now. I’ll keep you updated next week!


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This past week was Spring Break, and I ended up staying on campus to work on my junior essay for my History and Literature tutorial.  The junior essay is a 6,000 word (give or take) paper that every Hist and Lit student writes in the spring of their junior year, in preparation for the senior thesis.  To be clear, most concentrators don’t stay on campus to work on this essay, since the assignment spans the majority of the semester.  I just stuck around because I made a last-minute to write a new paper on a completely different topic, and I decided it was worth is to give up my break to focus all of my attention on my work.

Since I sacrificed sunshine for a better paper, and I ended up spending a lot of time in Widener Library working on my second paper.  My research often led me to the Widener Stacks, which are basically endless.

Some of the books are stored underground in Pusey Library, which is connected to Widener by an underground tunnel (you can see the tunnel in the diagram above).  A trip to Pusey is a rare occasion for me, and I couldn’t resist the urge to play around with the electronic book shelves while I was down there.

So this is basically how I spent my vacation: Pusey Stacks Clip

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I was taking a look at my planner today, and I realized that there is less than a month left in the semester.  This year has flown by so quickly, and I for one am a little unnerved about the fact that I’m about to wrap up my sophomore year.  Generally speaking, I’ve had an incredibly positive Harvard experience, but this spring has been my favorite semester by far.  I think that one of the reasons that this semester has been so enjoyable is that I have found my “academic soul-mate” in the History and Literature Department.

At Harvard, you do not declare your concentration until the end of your first semester during your second year.  I love that the College gives undergraduate students three semesters to shop around before they declare, because it gives students the opportunity to explore all of their options with minimal pressure.  In fact, I hadn’t seriously considered History and Literature as a concentration until this past fall.  Since I was able to take my time looking into prospective concentrations, I now go to class every day without any regrets about my decision to study History and Literature.

History and Literature (Hist and Lit for short) is an interdisciplinary field in the Humanities.  It’s actually the oldest concentration at Harvard (it celebrated its centennial in 2006 according to the Harvard Handbook), and is unique to the College.  In Hist and Lit we do our best to understand the historical and literary significance of a given text, and connect the text to larger themes.  To be honest, my own mother still gets a little confused when I try to explain the difference between “History and Literature” and History, Literature, and English, so feel free to check out the profile on the department’s website if you want more information!

In Hist and Lit, my field of interest is America (1607 to Present), but students can choose to study Latin America, Postcolonial Studies, Medieval Europe, Early Modern Europe, or Modern Europe as well.  Each field offers a selection of tutorials that are, without a doubt, the backbone of the department.  The tutorial is a required course that Hist and Lit students take every semester following their declaration.  Tutorials basically promote the integration of History and Literature.  The sophomore tutorial, which I am enrolled in now, is taught by two professors, one to represent each field, and all tutorials are kept small to facilitate discussion.  Tutorials allow students the opportunity to practice and perfect the research and writing skills that they need to succeed in interdisciplinary scholarship, but they shift their focus as students progress, so my junior and senior tutorials will be a little different.  The most exciting (and intimidating) part about being a History and Literature student will be my senior thesis.  Since it is an honors concentration, seniors are asked to produce a 10,000 to 15,000-word thesis about a subject that they find to be interesting, important, and relevant to their fields.

Me and a classmate as we get ready for our Hist and Lit tutorial! One of my tutorial leaders, Dr. Jeanne Follansbee, was kind enough to let me use some of the photos that she took during our tutorial for this week's post. Jeanne is the Department Head and the authority on literature for the class.

Harvard has over 40 concentrations that undergraduates can choose from, so there really is something for everyone.  Every department has something special to offer, and if you don’t feel at home in any of the departments you are welcome to declare a Special Concentration and design your own plan of study.  I love my concentration because I get to sample a little bit of what the other departments have to offer.  History and Literature is a unique and dynamic field, and I cannot imagine myself in another discipline.  Humanities or bust!

Tutorial in action! That's Dr. Steve Biel at the end of the table. He's the one of my tutorial leaders, and our history representative.

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