An MA in WHAT?

The last few weeks I was working, my boss felt compelled to mention to every customer I checked out that I’m leaving to go to grad school; it was really cute, but explaining why a Spanish major is getting an MA in History got kind of old after a while. Usually I just mentioned that it’s Spanish history, and people seemed satisfied with that.

It took some doing to convince my parents that going back for an MA in Spanish language or literature or even Iberian linguistics wouldn’t be the best idea. I see it as making my hobby my job; I like Spanish and love speaking it, but I want to be able to put it down whenever I want to—and I do not NOT NOT want to teach it, which is what most people thought I would do with my bachelor’s. I’m kind of a snob about Spanish. After eight years of Spanish classes, I want to hear it spoken as correctly as possible, which isn’t feasible for high school- or even college-level speakers. So I’ll keep my Spanish a hobby and translate at parent/teacher conferences on the side to keep sharp. Spanish isn’t my passion.

History is. I’ve always read my history textbooks cover-to-cover. I’ve wandered from WWII to Medieval Europe to Prehistory to 19th century Ireland and back again. I picked UNC Greensboro because it has a faculty member who focuses on Early Modern Spain; most universities prefer to focus on medieval Europe or the Enlightenment. EME seems so dynamic, taking the Renaissance’s envelope and pushing it further. You have literature in the vernacular developing its muscle and influencing revolutions, age-old institutions finally facing adaptation or collapse, social roles and hierachies coming into question.

I really want to focus on how the Reformation and Counter-Reformation influenced popular religion (how people practice a religion as opposed the ecclesiastical rubric) and how these affected women’s status in society.

I think I might pursue the theory that Medieval Christianity was all about mystery and being inscrutable to the masses. Popes fought masses in the vernacular simply because they believed that people being able to understand something detracts from their awe in it. Thus, everyday people didn’t understand the minutiae of their own faith, and often adapted it to suit their own needs and folk beliefs. Steve Ozment even argues that Medieval Catholicism developed into a mélange of magic, co-opted pagan traditions and egregiously misconstrued basic doctrine to the point that during mass,  some would hide the host on their persons instead of swallowing it; being the body of Christ, the host had magical powers that could be harnessed for desperately needed protection against the brutalities of everyday life.

During the Renaissance and Early Modern period, thinkers and theologians spoke out about everything wrong with this mélange, but they dared to do it in their native languages. This meant that anyone who could read could mull potentially heretical ideas for themselves; the Church traditionally turned a benign eye on those who published in Latin, since very few outside the elite understood it, thus limiting the pool of potential heretics. Joe Schmoe suddenly having access to dangerous books and ideas was seen as a threat to the very foundations of a Church that had resisted change for centuries.

Or I could take the womens’ studies track:

Since women were all Daughters of Eve, they were all dangerous. Even so, women had managed to exploit loopholes in the system to become powerful political and social players. They became abbesses of convents that controlled vast tracts of land and deftly managed financial empires—often while producing thoughtful treatises on whatever struck their fancy. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation (the Catholics set themselves as firmly anti-Protestant and closed many of the loopholes that had allowed humanists to flourish and thus spur the Reformation) firmly set women back several steps. Protestants closed monasteries and convents, eliminating the sole respectable occupation for women who did not want to marry. Catholics brought convents firmly under monastic auspices, typically requiring that an abbess submit to an abbot’s control, and sharply reducing the number of non-cloistered houses. Either way, women lost out.

See? I guaranteed you I’d not have written out a mini-lecture about the disenfranchisement of indigenous populations in Latin America leading to the overwhelmingly cynical nature of contemporary literature in the region. I had a hard enough time writing a five-page term paper on it.


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