UPDATE: Apparently Gerard has been given the opportunity to fight for his position in the comic. See it here. I’m glad, even if the comic still represents condescending attitudes toward humanities students. No, the possibility for social commentary has not escaped me. I am, perhaps, more upset at the overall treatment of Gerard. A casual look at the PHD forums and other blogs that mention Gerard from PHD will show that his treatment has touched a raw nerve for humanities students.
Gerard was introduced in August 2007. He’s only been in four comics of PHD (Piled Higher and Deeper), this latest one being the last, apparently. It took some digging to find them but reading over them I’m a bit upset with PHD. Most of the time I still get their jokes because of being a DATA alum and because I have several friends who are engineers and scientists. For a while their one bone to the humanities was in Tajel’s character, an anthropologist, who I also enjoyed because of my anthropology minor. When they added Gerard, a medievalist!, I was even happier. Then they didn’t do anything with him. If anything, the few comics he’s been in have shown that the writers of PHD don’t have much respect toward literature grad students.
Granted, perhaps these are supposed to be funny. Every literature student I know has encountered “What are you going to do with that?” more than once. I’ve even been demanded “Why?“, also on more than one occasion. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us have inferiority complexes of some degree. Obviously I have the tendency to get defensive. Surely Jorge Cham could have thought of something else that was, perhaps, actually funny for the people for whom he apparently had made the character.*
What am I going to do as a medievalist? I’m going to study and learn where we came from, to better understand where we are now, and where we are going. I’m going to learn how people are the same throughout history, and how we are different, how our worldviews change, and what changes them. I’m learning how to learn so that I can do this my entire life. I’m going to research and write so I can share what I learn. I’m going to write and teach so that I can help shape the generation that follows me to be sensitive to all people, tolerant of cultures, to think critically and approach the world with curiosity. Above, all, I’m going to enjoy myself, because this is what I love to do. People who study literature and history stand in the proud tradition of continuing and shaping civilisation as we know it. Without medieval Irish monasteries, we wouldn’t have copies of manuscripts that were destroyed during Viking attacks. Without Arabic commentators, we wouldn’t have known about Aristotle. What would the world be like without Shakespeare? Milton? Goethe? Dickens? Hawthorne? Hemingway? Eliot? Pound? I could go on and on. A world without literature is a world that does not know itself. A major that is useful, indeed!