March 2015 English Major of the Month
Cara CifferelliYear: Senior
Hometown: Clinton, CT
Why did you choose to major in English?|
I have always enjoyed English and reading in my free time. During my freshman year, though, I explored a bunch of different majors: history, journalism, even computer science. After a particularly successful semester of Writing the Essay, I came back to English.
Are you pursuing any minors, internships, or fields of interest outside your English major? How do you feel they interact with or enhance your study of English?
In my professional life, I have interned in the art world and the museum world. I’ve interned at The Frick Collection, the New-York Historical Society, and right now I’m at the Museum of Jewish Heritage teaching middle and high school students about the Holocaust. In my variety of visual arts and history experiences, my ability to communicate verbally and through writing has always helped me: I have had to write tours as well as write and copy edit programs. When interacting with history and interacting with art, literature is never far away. Whether its offering context or grounding an emotional experience, connecting what I’ve learned in the English department has always given me a wider context for artifacts, paintings, and history. For example, my thesis is about Henry VIII; I was reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall while I was at The Frick, standing in front of the portrait of Sir Thomas Cromwell that inspired the novel. I love these coincidental intersections with my academic and professional work.
If you have studied abroad, where did you go? What did you take away from the experience?
I went to London in Fall 2013 and for me it validated my love for pre-1800s history. Living in Connecticut, I have always been surrounded by colonial history, but going to a place that is both modern and ancient was fascinating. It is one thing to read about the Tower of London, but it is quite another to visit. This visceral experience of standing where history happened is what inspired the final part of my thesis, which contextualizes modern ideas about Tudor history in Hampton Court Palace, a palace and museum.
If you could choose any animal in literature for a pet, which would you choose and why?
I’ve got to go with Harry Potter’s hippogriff. I mean, a half horse half eagle that can fly? The best.
Are there any classes you feel have been particularly impactful to you as an English major at NYU? What were they and why?
I decided to be an English major after taking Professor Guillory’s British Literature I class. I also really enjoyed Professor Siskin’s “Mediation Lab” course, which was modeled after the MIT tech labs and allowed the class to integrate museum study and game theory while in the context of the English department. My thesis work was also helped immensely from Professor Archer’s senior seminar, “Renaissance, Reality, Hunger” which made me look at the period in a more creative light.
Do you have an essay-writing routine?
I type out quotes I’ve found from my research and then color code it. That way, when I do my essay outline, I can see what I’ve cited and if I repeat one or two sources too much. Plus, I’m a visual learner, and it looks much more interesting than black text on a white background.
What is your favorite word?
What has been one of your favorite experiences as an English major?
I’m writing my honors thesis right now, and even though it’s full of existential doubt, terror, and lots of hard work, I was able to connect with the English department in a way that I couldn’t otherwise. I’ve been able to meet more professors and classmates. Workshopping my thesis for the last year has been really helpful to my writing and I’ve made some great friends. I recommend English majors to apply to the honors program - it’s really taken my experience with the department above and beyond.
If you could create any dream job for yourself post-graduation, what would you choose and why?
My dream job would be to be a (well-paid) historical costume conservator. I’ve been in museum education and I’ve been able to be behind the scenes to some of the city’s great museums, and conservators especially get to be a part of the unseen workings of how the museum runs. My favorite part of history is the clothing, and ultimately I would love to work at the Victoria and Albert museum or something similar working on their huge and amazing costume collection.
My other dream job has been realized, though, because next year I will be in Teach for America teaching English to high school students in NYC! I’m really excited to make an impact on the next generation of not just prospective English majors but everyone, because everyone can be affected by literature.
Why do you feel studying English is important?
English Literature allows you to contextualize the world around you. It gives you a scope of what you’re feeling today: someone 500 years ago is probably going through something similar and you can find that out in the pages of a book. Since I’m also a history major, studying English literature has made history more tangible. It’s one thing to read a textbook about WWI, but to read A Farewell to Arms makes real what is made abstract by history’s dates and figures.
What advice would you give to those considering an English major?
Ignore any naysayers you’ve come across - English has and will be the most useful major I could have. Any employer I’ve met with has been impressed, and I’ve made great friends in the department.