September 2015

What Are You Going to Do with that Humanities Degree?

Krook Lecture_FBPost“What’s the difference between a bench and an English major? The bench can support family of four.” This dispiriting joke was part of the opening statements delivered by Sean Latham, director of the Oklahoma Center of the Humanities (OCH), prior to Anne Krook’s lecture: “What Are You Going to DO with that Humanities Major?” This talk (and the workshop that followed) was part of a new annual series at OCH called the Humanities at Work, which explores the transition between college life and the workplace. Krook concluded that humanities majors possess skills that allow them not only to find a job, but to thrive amid the tumult of the modern workplace.

Krook received a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale and a doctorate from Cornell in 1989 before beginning her career as a professor at the University of Michigan. After being denied tenure, however, she suddenly found herself out of a job and uncertain about what to do next. Even 30 years ago, humanities degrees were seen as less than optimal for finding a job, and Krook moved to Seattle where she became a bartender. A friend recommended she check out a new start-up company called Amazon: It was an online bookseller and, this friend assumed, Krook’s love of books made it a natural fit. That friend was right; and after being hired as an editor, Krook quickly rose through the ranks to hold a number of executive positions. She has since held similar positions at other tech start-up companies and become a member of the board of directors for a nonprofit legal firm. While most of her jobs were not intimately tied to her English major, Krook emphasized that her work in the humanities equipped her with the skills she needed to become an effective leader in the constantly changing tech industry.

During her campus lecture, which will shortly appear on our YouTube channel, Krook explained that humanities students should not think of themselves as a major, but as masters of key skills. “I always hire a person,” she explained, “never a major.” Drawing on her own experiences as a hiring manager, she described what companies want to see in candidates and how humanities students, in particular, can describe their skills most effectively. “All jobs require skills,” she noted, and for jobs that do not require a specific certification (like an M.D., for example), the ability to learn quickly, think critically, write clearly and work effectively with diverse groups of people are essential. Humanities majors typically have all of these valuable skills as well as a distinctive flexibility. In her lecture, Krook explained how students should inventory their accomplishments, link them into a compelling narrative and then integrate them successfully on a resume. Here’s the resume-building tool she provided to help with this process.

As Krook noted in her talk, workers now hold an average of 11 different jobs in their lives. Humanities majors, she contended, are expert at moving from position to position since learning a new job is much like learning 18th-century poetry or classical philosophy: you go in knowing very little then plunge into complex tasks and communicate them clearly to others. It’s the same kind of flexibility that allowed an expert on Milton to manage the launch of Amazon’s international websites, oversee the development of the company’s data centers, direct operations at a tech company and reinvigorate a nonprofit. The answer to the question, “What are you going to do with a humanities degree?” is “Anything you want.”

You can find more helpful advice, readings and job-searching tools at

  • – by Mikayla Pevac

In on the Joke? Female Viewers of Renaissance Erotica

Each week this semester, our Humanities Research Fellows will publish short pieces here about their work in our seminar on humor.  We kick things off with this fascinating piece from Professor Maria Maurer about erotic art in the Renaissance.

Raphael, Mercury, Loggia of Psyche, ca. 1511-13. Villa Farnesina, Rome. Photo by author.

In the sixteenth century, Paolo Giovio described a female visitor to Raphael’s Loggia at the Villa Farnesina. The unnamed lady praised the figures, but wished that Raphael “had painted a nice rose or a figleaf over the shame of Mercury.” Raphael then teased her, asking “But why did you not suggest that I should do the same thing for Polyphemus, whom you praised so much, and whose shame is so much larger?” While this passage is full of errors (Raphael did not paint the Polyphemus, for example), Giovio nonetheless suggests that women were incapable of the wit necessary to appreciate Renaissance sexual humor. Mercury’s genitals are quite unassuming, and thus not in need of a figleaf, but he does gesture broadly to an engorged and suggestively shaped cucumber which is aimed toward an overripe, swollen fig. The phallus masquerading as a cucumber is the source of visual wit, a source the lady apparently missed.

We generally assume that women were not the intended audience of erotica, and that if they did see it, like Giovio’s lady, they didn’t get it or were scandalized. However, I want to consider a plate manufactured in the Umbrian town of Deruta during the early sixteenth century that seems to address a female audience.

Plate with a Woman and a Basket of Phallic Fruits, Deruta, first quarter of 16th century. © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)/Beck-Coppola.

The plate depicts a seated woman and a basket filled with “fruits.” The phallic nature of the wriggling fruits is clearly revealed as she grasps one and holds it up for our inspection. Sixteenth-century art often pairs beautiful women or handsome youths with fruits and vegetables, playing on the availability of the produce as a metaphor for sexual availability or, as in Raphael’s Mercury, using suggestively shaped vegetables as barely-disguised references to sexual intercourse.

Here, the metaphoric “fruits” of painting and poetry have become the phalluses they often represent. The plate also plays upon Renaissance conceptions of women’s voracious sexual appetites, which must be tamed by their more rational male family members. For a male audience, the dish ridicules and dismisses female sexual desire making it the butt of a lewd joke.

However, what if we, like Raphael’s female interlocutor, miss the joke? Taken at face value the inscription “Come get your good fruit, women,” invites women to initiate sexual activity, a sort of Renaissance “come and get it.” In that regard, the dish opens up a space for female sexual agency by depicting women as beings with sexual appetites that can and should be satiated.

I don’t mean to posit any easy answers here, nor to suggest that the plate has one meaning. Rather, I think its bawdy humor allows for multiple, even contradictory interpretations. Sexual humor in the Renaissance is often seen as reinforcing norms, as in this case where the plate appears to mock the sexual desires of women who were supposed to remain chaste. Yet, in representing female sexuality, the plate also makes it visible, and creates a space for female activity.

Further Reading:

  • Pietro Aretino, Dialogues, translated by Raymond Rosenthal (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005).
  • Linda Wolk-Simon, “‘Rapture to the Greedy Eyes’: Profane Love in the Renaissance,” in Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, ed. Andrea Bayer, 43-58 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008).
  • Patricia Simons, The Sex of Men in Premodern Europe: A Cultural History (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

What are you going to DO with that humanities major?

Join us at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, for the inaugural lecture in the new Humanities at Work series sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities at TU.

Anne Krook received her doctorate in English then taught at the University of Michigan for seven years before starting work at She held numerous executive positions and now writes and lectures about how humanities students can translate their skills into jobs.

The lecture, about the value of humanities degrees in the workplace, is free and open to the public and will be held in the Tyrrell Hall auditorium on the TU campus. Current and prospective students, their parents and university employees are encouraged to attend!

More info on the TU event calendar.

The 2015 Humor Seminar

humor2Curious about what the nine fellows at the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities are doing in the spring research seminar?  Here’s a look at our syllabus that includes detailed study of topics like satire, nonsense, pain, internet trolls, and vaudeville.  The seminar is closed to the public, but in the coming weeks we’ll feature blog and Facebook posts about our work.


Seminar Schedule

Week 1 (8/26)

What’s Funny?

Read:  Simon Critchley, On Humor

Watch:  Chaplin, Modern Times (1936)


Week 2 (9/2)

Humor, Comedy, Zaniness, and Laughter

Read:  Sianne Ngai, “The Zany Science,” from Our Aesthetic Categories

Watch: I Love Lucy  (“The Marriage License,” “The Ballet,” “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” )

Week 3 (9/9)


Read: Selections from Edward Lear’s Complete Verse and Other Nonsense, ed. Vivien Noakes (Penguin)

Read:  Susan Stewart’s Nonsense: Aspects of Intertextuality in Folklore and Literature

Read:  Jean-Jacques LeCercle, The Philosophy of Nonsense.


Week 4 (9/16)

Satire and Sex 

View: Marcantonio Raimondi after Giulio Romano, I Modi [The Positions], originally engraved c. 1524.

View:  Monogrammist CLF after Francesco Salviati, The Triumph of the Phallus, original design from the 16th century.

View:  Giacomo Franco, Da questa sorte sono i buon salami [This is the good kind of salami], 1580-90.

View:  Philippe Thomassin, after Giovanni Giacomo de’ Rossi, O Zanolina mia, è meglio la fava che il fiore [Oh Zanolina my beautiful girl, the bean is better than the flower], c. 1595

View:  Plate with a Woman and a Basket of Phallic Fruits, first quarter of the 16th century Francesco Urbini (attributed to), Phallic-head plate, 1536

Read:  Paul Barolsky, “Mannerist Bizzarrie” in Infinite Jest: Wit and Humor in Italian Renaissance Art, pp. 101-138.

Read:  Catalog entries on I Modi from Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, ed. Andrea Bayer. Cat. num.: 99, 100 

Read: Selections from Pietro Aretino’s Sonnetti lussorosi 

Read:  Sara Matthews-Grieco “Satyrs and sausages: erotic strategies and the print market in Cinquecento Italy” in Erotic Cultures of Renaissance Italy, pp. 19-60.

Read:  Catalog entries on lascivious prints and ceramics from Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, ed. Andrea Bayer. Cat. num.: 102, 106, 109, 110, 111

Week 5 (9/23)

Satire and Enlightenment 

Read:  Introduction to Satire by Leonard Feinberg, pp. 3-19

Read:  A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (1729)

Read:  The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope (1714)

Week 6 (9/30)

Satire: Why Don’t They Get It?

Read: Selections from Nieman Reports 58.4

Background:  Gulliver’s Travels

Week 7 (10/7)

Mistrusting Humor

Read:  Postman, from Amusing Ourselves to Death

Read:  Gans, from Popular Culture and High Culture

Read: Arendt, “Society and Culture”

Watch:  Sturgis, Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Week 8 (10/14)

Special Event

Attend: Literary Death Match

Week 9 (10/21)

Humor and the Everyday 

Read:  Detweiler, Eric. ““I Was Just Doing A Little Joke There”: Irony And The Paradoxes Of The Sitcom In The Office.” Journal Of Popular Culture 45.4 (2012): 727-748.

Watch:  The Office (U.S.), Episode 1.1 “Pilot”

Watch:  Parks and Recreation, Episode 1.1 “Pilot”

Watch:  Last Week Tonight With John Oliver: Net Neutrality

Week 10 (10/28)

Humor and Digital Life

Read:  Whitney Phillips, from This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Special Guest: Whitney Phillips

Week 11 (11/4)


View: Vaudeville

View: Nicholas Brothers, Stormy Weather (YouTube)

View:  Tommy Tiernan (TBD)

Read: Writing for Vaudeville (excerpts)

Week 12 (11/11)

Humor and Pain

Watch: Seinfeld, “The Yada Yada”

Watch: Bill Irwin, “The Clown Bagatelles”

Read: CJS Hayward, “Humor Delivers Pain”

Read: Trevor Griffiths, The Comedians

Week 13 (11/18)

Humor and Mental Illness

Read:  Gelkopf, M. 2011. The use of humor in serious mental illness: a review. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Vol 2011, pp. 1-8.

Read:  Kuiper, N. 2012. Humor and Resiliency:  Towards a Process Model of Coping and Growth. Europe’s Journal of Psychology. Vol. 8(3), pp. 475-491.

Read:  Corrigan, P., et al. 2014. Does Humor Influence the Stigma of Mental Illnesses? Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease. Vol. 202(5), pp. 397-401.


In Memoriam: Joseph Kestner

News-Kestner-ObitToday, students, friends, and colleagues gathered in Sharp Chapel to say farewell to Dr. Joseph Kestner, McFarlin Professor of English and Film at the University of Tulsa. His sudden and untimely death on the first day of the fall semester has left a ragged hole in the arts and humanities on this campus and in the larger community.   He was a scholar of immense talent and energy who founded the Department of Film Studies while advocating tirelessly for the interdisciplinary exploration of art, music, literature, film. Continue reading “In Memoriam: Joseph Kestner”