On Academic Intersections: Knowledge Stacks

One of my favorite things about taking multiple classes in different disciplines is how everything still manages to link up in ways that I did not expect. A large part of why I chose the Comparative Humanities program is because throughout my time at Brandeis I have noticed and enjoyed these intersections, and so as a graduate student, and to some extent I did this even as an undergraduate, I seek out these intersections and do my best to think about them critically.

An example of how I did this last semester is that my final paper for my Queer Readings course was about how three different translations of the myth of Iphis and Ianthe, each translated in distinct centuries, represented the queer themes of the story. I could not have done this were it not for my previous readings of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in both my Classical Mythology course and Classical Myths course, which each used a different translation of the text. I found myself further qualified to talk about comparative translation from the Literary Translation course that I had taken in a previous semester. I would have found myself more qualified if I had taken Latin the semester before writing this essay, rather than the semester after, but so it goes.[1]

 As another example, I do not think that I could have written my essay on Dante’s representations of Limbo and Paradise for my Modernity course last semester were it not for the course I took on Hell, the afterlife, and poetry in my junior year. I could go on, but my point is that at some point or another, every class that I have taken at Brandeis has informed at least one other class, creating what I strongly believe to be a richer experience.

Two weeks into my career as a graduate student, I am finding that even in the short time since the semester has started my classes are already starting to connect. My course on Witchcraft and Magic, for example, at first glance might not seem at all connected with Millennial Latin American Fiction for someone who is not familiar with either topic, but in actuality our readings on the theories of magic and its connection to religion and science are very much informing my fiction course, due to the fact that much of what we have been studying is magical realism, and in fact the first text we are reading for the class is titled El mago  (The Magician) by César Aira, which, as one might imagine, is about a magician.

My courses of study at Brandeis also inform my general interests outside of the classroom and vice versa. As readers of this blog well know, I enjoy writing book reviews, and thus I enjoy reading books. One of the great things about reading broadly is that I get to engage with topics and perspectives that I might not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience. Each book that I read varies in a multitude of ways, but a common factor is that in reading diversely I often come in to contact with vocabulary that I then need to add to my personal lexicon. I’ve always said that my life would be easier if I learned Latin, and even with having just attended four Latin classes and read two chapters of the textbook, I’ve already lost count of the amount of times that I have found use in understanding vocabulary that would have confused me not even a month ago. That said, what I find amusing is how my previous knowledge of what may seem like extraneous vocabulary is doing the reverse, in that I am remembering my Latin vocab better because I know English words that are derived from the Latin originals that I am currently studying.

In a similar vein, my personal interest in mythographic and pagan traditions has led me to being prepared for my Magic and Witchcraft class, as even though I have not studied Mesopotamia with much depth, I am familiar with how to approach this field of study. What little I did know about Mesopotamia prior to this class is enhanced by having taken a course a couple years ago regarding the Ancient Silk Road. That particular course, in conjunction with my Historical Linguistics course and my general interest in languages, enabled me to grasp with greater clarity my readings which discuss the translation of the ancient mesopotamian texts, as well as appreciate the difficulty in doing so.[2]

I suppose what I am ultimately saying here is that knowledge stacks. I could not be in the place that I am today were it not for all that has happened in my past, and while my four years as an undergrad were tough, I do feel that they, and all the years of schooling I had before then, have prepared me for my current environment as best they could. If you’ll excuse me, that environment includes reading a whole bunch, so I’d best be off working through my to be read pile.

Happy Friday!



[1] I am not unaware that this would have been a better point had I studied Latin earlier in my life but, alas, this is but one of the many reasons why I have frequently stated that my life would be easier if I knew Latin.

[2] If any of y’all are interested in how deciphering dead languages can add to historical knowledge you might also be interested in reading my essay about how the discovery of Tocharian languages has contributed to historians’ understanding of some of the migrations and changes throughout the Silk Road.

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