Taking Cover

 
Been looking at the MLA’s Job Information List — the first jobs for the fall hiring season just listed — while revisiting Gerald Graff’s “Taking Cover in Coverage” with our intro to grad studies seminar at USC.
 
I want to set aside the question of just how “bad” the market will actually be, with the incremental release of jobs on the JIL, etc., though I note Romanticism and Victorian lit are currently showing a dozen jobs in Romanticism, Victorian, or C19 British lit COMBINED.  I’m struck by the relation between the seeming collapse of some of the more specific fields and Graff’s argument about the postwar expansion: “One of the most conspicuous operational advantages was the way the coverage model made the department virtually self-regulating” and it allowed faculty fo avoid harder questions about rationale, the integrity of the major, etc. Left out of the analysis (but implied, I think) is the closed circuit between a coverage model-based curriculum, graduate training, and hiring that subsisted during the expansion and during smaller retractions in hiring.
 
Things look different now, and recently some have resumed Graff’s call. (Eric Hayot, in “The Sky is Falling“: classes should “ask big questions and teach you how to do things” rather than cover “The Modern Novel or Medieval Europe.”)
 
And further setting aside questions of the causal relation or the Wisdom of How it All Happened, it *does* seem like expanding enrollments coincided with the expansion of coverage-based courses. And it makes me wonder what it would look like to actually decouple education and training from period coverage. For me this raises a series of questions.
 
(1) What might we do with graduate exams, especially as some argue for graduate training that is flexible about period, public-oriented, or concerned with alternative career possibilities?
 
(2) How do you articulate a non-coverage curriculum to a “technobureaucratic” administration in which distribution requirements, core curriculums, etc. seem to be the rage — especially when we’re lucky enough to be able to run a search?
 
(3) Should we be looking to universities in countries that experienced a postwar recession rather than expansion — thinking the UK, Germany, Italy? — to see how they adapted their curriculum?
 
I’m raising these questions because it seems clear, when talking to graduate students today about the market tomorrow, that the It That Shall Not Be Named is undergrad enrollment — something they have no control over, but we might. And this is doubly, triply true when training graduate students in fields like “Victorian literature” or “Modernism” or even “Romanticism” that have little or no meaning for a matriculating freshman.
 
Where are people at with this?
(Link to a discussion of these questions on Facebook here.)
[UPDATE: I’ve gathered the discussion around this post into  Google Doc with the working title “Fixing English” — link here. There are some fascinating discussions of periodization, historicism, & enrollments, and various political, economic, and administrative pressures on the major.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *