A Liberal Arts Education and Personal Voice

“If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

-Sir Isaac Newton

 “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

-T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Anyone seeking a post-secondary education can tell you of the frustration of being caught in a particularly maddening contradiction of academic culture.

Despite receiving support and encouragement from professional mentors to establish themselves as free-thinking individuals in the world, students are surrounded by constant reminders of infamous figures who have achieved success and titanic status within their fields. I chose to begin this post with some well-remembered words from Sir Isaac Netwon and T.S. Eliot because their ideas about education and legacy seem to complicate this phenomenon even further. Newton’s quotation (from a letter to a contemporary, Robert Hooke) evokes humility and reverence, while Eliot dismisses the equivalent of Newton’s “giants,” arguing that a new era demands new thought. Next to each other, these ideas seem completely opposite. To forge ahead, as Eliot charges, is our only option if we are to truly learn or achieve anything of value, but to do so without the knowledge and wisdom gleaned from history seems unthinkably narcissistic. A liberal arts education, then, is one way of bridging earnest innovation with past brilliance.

In the past few weeks, my work as the Gumberg Library Intern has allowed me to learn more about certain significant cultural figures who either were born or lived in Pittsburgh. Spending time researching some of the roots of Pittsburgh culture has been enlightening, educational, and enriching!

I helped Mr. Bergfelt prepare the temporary Teenie Harris exhibit on the fourth floor of the library in preparation for the February 6th event. Charlene Foggie-Barnett, Teenie Harris Archive Specialist at the Carnegie Museum of Art, was the guest speaker. She spoke about the life and work of Teenie Harris, as well as her relationship with him as a subject of his photography. Another of my projects this week involved updating the “Pittsburgh Poets” research guide. I added profiles to the guide for three additional poets: Cameron Barnett, Lucie Brock-Broido, and Jason Irwin.

This common theme of Pittsburgh culture was unintentional, yet it caused me to think more deeply about the people and topics that I have been drawn to throughout my undergrad education. In many ways, my courses have laid the groundwork for my career path. Already, I am noticing how great authors, thinkers, and leaders that I have studied are beginning to inform my work with the Gumberg Library. I am excited for all there is left to learn as I continue my work and develop my voice as a creative individual in the professional world.

Eliot, T.S. T.S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. Print.

Newton, Isaac, and Robert Hooke. Isaac Newton Letter to Robert Hooke, 1675. Historical Society of Pennsylvania Digital Library. Web. (https://digitallibrary.hsp.org/index.php/Detail/objects/9792)


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