WHAT I LEARNED WHILE STUDYING FOR A MASTERS OF PHILOSOPHY DEGREE
I mistakenly referred to this as a Masters of Philosophy degree in a comment in another list, when it is actually a Master of Philosophy degree. Getting the name and abbreviation right is one of the things I learned, or tried to. And some of these are things I learned WHILE studying for my degree, rather than BY studying for it.
- •I did a Master of Philosophy degree at the Warburg Institute, U of London, five years after finishing a B.A. In Classics and Medieval Studies.The B.A. degree was actually in Individualized Studies, which meant, Put together your own program, but I'm probably the only one who knows its official title. They probably don't have these any more.
- •If my graduate degree was offered in America, it would be abbreviated as M.Phil. But it is an English degree, so nothing is simple. It is abbreviated as M.Phil (no period). I have also seen it as MPhil. and MPhilI would like to say that one of the things I learned was the abbreviation for my degree, but I think what I learned is that there is no consensus as to what the abbreviation is.
- •I decided to do this degree because I had heard about the Warburg while an undergraduate and it sounded like a place that was unlike any other. http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/The Institute was founded by Aby Warburg, the black sheep of the Warburg banking family, in Hamburg. It was an offshoot of his library. In 1933 his successors accepted an invitation from a group in London to bring the library and its scholars there, given the rise of Nazism. It became part of the U of London in 1944.The library was the subject of a New Yorker article not too long ago: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/16/in-the-memory-ward
- •I also was aware that this degree would have zero benefit as a résumé builder. Unless I was planning to pursue an academic career.But that was part of the appeal. It seemed misplaced that people went to university so they could learn a trade and get a job. That's what apprenticeship and job training was for. How about going to university to learn something that interested you but that you couldn't just pick up on your own? Or learning how to think, so you could take on any job?
- •So how to think, process, organize and synthesize information was one of the things that I learned at grad school.
- •I did also learn about Renaissance art, culture, and history. In my thesis year I focused on the Florentine Neoplatonists and how they sought out other philosophical currents of the time and incorporated them into their work.I learned, much later, how much these guys put us to shame. Today, if you learn about or borrow from other cultures, the Left would be on your case for cultural appropriation, and the Right for mingling with heretics and unbelievers. The Florentines did have to keep an eye on the Catholic Church, but fortunately for them, the Inquisition hadn't reared its head quite yet.
- •In my first year, I had an art history class with Charles Hope, who later became a Director of the Warburg. After I gave a presentation in class, he and the lovely Liz McGrath (then a Warburg librarian, now a Professor) took me to lunch next door at the School of Oriental and African Studies.That was the first time I had been into the SOAS building, and also the first time a professor had taken me to lunch as a reward for a good presentation. How un-English was that! But they were part of a new generation, not overloaded with English reserve. The lunch was in the student cafeteria. Don't remember the details, but do remember being surprised at how casual and unassuming these serious scholars were. Maybe I learned not to conclude too much from first impressions.
- •I looked around the University to see who I might get as a thesis advisor for my 2nd year thesis. But people outside the Warburg thought that the only topic of merit would be a translation, or something concrete like that. They didn't get how an MPhil candidate could do any real research.I stuck with my Warburg advisor. I learned that there is not always consensus in academia.
- •In order to research my thesis, of course I had to visit manuscript libraries in Italy: Mantua, Florence, and the Vatican. I had a letter from my advisor, which got me into these esteemed places.And the University gave me a grant to fund my travels.I learned what it might be like to work at an off the beaten track library like the one in Mantua. Mantua is one of those You can't get there from here places, even in a country with an excellent train system. I felt like I was the only visitor they had seen in a while. That evening I had dinner at what seemed to be the only open restaurant in town. For the main course, I ordered what turned out to be giant mushroom. They served it to me with a straight face.
- •Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, FlorenceDesign by Michelangelo
- •Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican CityThose windows let in a lot of heat and light, so be prepared to sweat.
- •I learned that the English aren't the most outgoing of people. (Shades of Brexit). The foreign students generally hung out with the foreign students. It also didn't help that there were only 12 of us in the MPhil program and we were spread out all over London. Most people couldn't afford to live centrally.I lived in a residence for foreign students, then in a graduate residence for foreign students, then shared a flat with a Dutchman (now an internationally known Holocaust architectural historian), and then finally with an English classmate who had graduated from Oxford and talked like it. She was quite sweet and boldly approached me to ask about the room the Dutchman was vacating; I'm sure that for her, the appeal was the flat's relatively central Camden Town location. I was just the gatekeeper.
- •I was fortunate to be there with a group of scholars just before they passed away. Not the original German group of Gombrich and Panofsky, of course, but the English successors such as DP Walker.....
- •Dame Frances Yates...
- •... And the American Charles Schmitt, who was my thesis advisor.May they rest in peace. And I just learned that you can't put more than one image in a List item (or at least not in my version).
- •I learned about Giordano Bruno. He lived a bit after the period I focussed on but I latched on to him anyway. Some people say that how you should talk to people is a function of the power dynamics between you; Bruno wasn't one of them. He didn't leave any doubt as to what he thought of his regressive contemporaries.Unfortunately the Inquisition was active at that time. He was burned at the stake in Campo dei Fiori, Rome, in 1600. Go visit his statue there. And enjoy the food market that is there in the mornings.
- •Much of what I learned was the result of being in a foreign place. I met foreign people, learned my way around a big foreign city, changed up my routines, learned to put shillings in the heater and in the pay phone, learned to drink real ale in free houses (not that hard), got hit riding my bike when all those cars kept driving on the wrong side.....had a romantic picnic on an English beach in the rain and ended up in the pub to dry off, learned to live without some of the creature comforts we enjoy in N America, and got an education in the process. Being somewhere new and different seems to open up the neural pathways to memory formation. Try it if you can. And never stop learning.