1.1 Beecroft Interview: 1.10.2010
Alexander Jamieson Beecroft & Catherine Melnyk
An interview with Alexander Jamieson Beecroft, Associate Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature and Director of the Program in Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become interested in Comparative Literature? What was your educational path? Can you describe your research interests, past and present, as well as where your education has taken you?
I began as a Classics undergraduate at the University of Alberta doing the Honours program which meant doing lots of courses on Greek and Latin authors, but I didn’t really start to think seriously about graduate study until my fourth year when I started taking modern Chinese. That fall, I took a course on Existentialist philosophy (a course which was very literary in its approach) and began work on an Honours thesis on Nietzsche and Homer, which is where my interest in studying Comparative Literature really took off. When I went to grad school, I focused on Classics and Early China. Initially, I had to do a lot of work in languages and philology to prepare; after that, the next challenge was figuring out how to write a dissertation/book about early Greece and China that might find an audience! This, in turn, led me towards the work that I’m now doing on World Literature.
2. What path did you follow upon graduation? Travel? Teaching abroad?
I took a couple of years off between my BA and my Ph.D. The first of those years I spent teaching ESL to kids in Taiwan, which was a great experience and taught me a lot about teaching. Then I spent several months backpacking across India and Southeast Asia. I’m really glad I took that time off – I ended up doing basically the same work I would have done anyway, but the time away from school gave me a clearer sense of why I was doing that work.
3. What is your personal challenge as a working member within the Comparative Literature field?
The great challenge, as well as the great opportunity, of the work I do lies in trying to bring the methodologies and approaches of Comp Lit to literatures (Ancient Greek and Classical Chinese) that aren’t usually studied in that way. It’s a question of building dialogue: talking to classicists about Chinese and vice versa, talking to philologists about theory and about theory to philologists.
4. What was your experience getting published and starting your career? As graduates we are consistently told to build our CVs by attending conferences, submitting papers and applying for scholarships. What has been your experience in building a successful CV? Do you consider it an ongoing process as an academic?
I think persistence is really the key. A mentor of mine once said that the magic number is 19 – that if you send out an article 19 times, and it’s rejected each time, there’s probably something wrong with it; otherwise, just mail it back out as soon as it’s rejected. That’s a bit of an exaggeration – I’ve received some excellent feedback from readers at times. But it’s important to develop a thick skin and to keep putting yourself out there. Try also to think of all the work you’re doing as contributing to a coherent body of work and a consistent sense of who you are and what you do. It’s a process that never ends.
5. In the summer of 2010 it was announced that the University of Toronto recommended that the Centre for Comparative Literature be disestablished as of 2011. With the recent crisis in Toronto, what do you see for the future of Comparative Literature?
I’m very dismayed by the U of T’s short-sighted plans for Comp Lit and the new school of languages; here at South Carolina, we also have a large department combining all the foreign and classical languages, but we think of Comparative Literature as a unifying force that’s all the more essential in such a large department. Despite what’s happening in Toronto, I’m hopeful for the future of Comparative Literature; borders are breaking down everywhere, and I think Comp Lit Ph.D.’s are well-positioned to be flexible in what they teach, which is becoming increasingly important.
Note: The University of Toronto decided to keep the Centre for Comparative Literature open. -Ed.
6. If you could go back to when you were a graduate student, what is one word of advice you would want to hear?
Don’t lose sight of your passions and your reasons for getting into this field in the first place. It’s important to think seriously about your career and to work hard and plan strategically. But this profession is a lifetime commitment, and you’ll get much more out of it if you love what you do!
Alexander Jamieson Beecroft is Associate Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature and Director of the Program in Comparative Literature in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina, USA.
Catherine Melnyk graduated from the University of Alberta in 2011 with a Masters of Arts in Comparative Literature. She has since published works in Westworld Alberta Magazine. Catherine is now a student of the French language continuing her studies at Alliance Française in Bordeaux, France. Catch her trail-blazing spouse musings at travelismyheartbeat.com.